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Hubble unveils monster stars in the Tarantula Nebula

17 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the unique ultraviolet capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have identified nine monster stars with masses over 100 times the mass of the Sun in the star cluster R136, located in the Tarantula Nebula within the Large Magellanic Cloud. This makes it the largest sample of very massive stars identified to date.

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Students map Milky Way with dwarf stars

17 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Two astronomy students from Leiden University have mapped the entire Milky Way Galaxy in dwarf stars for the first time. They show that there are a total of 58 billion dwarf stars, of which seven percent reside in the outer regions of our galaxy. This result is the most comprehensive model ever for the distribution of these stars.

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Supermassive black holes banish matter into cosmic voids

26 February 2016 Astronomy Now

On the largest scales, galaxies and everything they contain are concentrated into filaments that stretch around the edge of enormous voids. Data from the Illustris project, a large computer simulation of the evolution and formation of galaxies, suggests that the black holes at the centre of every galaxy are helping to send matter into the loneliest places in the universe.

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Adding a new dimension to the early chemistry of the solar system

6 February 2016 Astronomy Now

An international research team has used sophisticated computer simulations to calculate a two-dimensional map of the dust chemistry in the solar nebula, the thin dusty disc that surrounded the young Sun and out of which the planets formed. The study has given new insights into the chemical composition of the dust grains that formed in the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

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A lonely planet and its distant star

26 January 2016 Astronomy Now

A team of astronomers in the UK, USA and Australia have found a planet, until now thought to be a free floating, in a huge, 900,000-year orbit around its star. Incredibly the object, designated as 2MASS J2126, is about 1 trillion (1 million million) kilometres from the star, or about 7,000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

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Ancient gas cloud may be a relic from the death of first stars

8 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Researchers from Australia and the USA have discovered a distant, ancient cloud of gas that may contain the signature of the very first stars that formed in the universe. The gas cloud is many billions of light-years away from Earth, and is observed as it was just 1.8 billion years after the Big Bang.

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Giant comets could pose danger to life on Earth

26 December 2015 Astronomy Now

Over the last two decades, the discovery of hundreds of giant comets, termed Centaurs, on unstable orbits in the outer planetary system means that these objects pose a much greater hazard to life than asteroids, according to a team of UK astronomers. Centaurs are typically 50 to 100 kilometres across, or larger, and a single such body contains more mass than the entire population of Earth-crossing asteroids found to date.

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UPDATED: Are comet fragments best explanation for mysterious dimming star?

25 November 2015 Keith Cooper

A star called KIC 8462852 has been in the news recently for unexplained and bizarre behaviour. NASA’s Kepler mission had monitored the star for four years, observing two unusual incidents, in 2011 and 2013, when the star’s light dimmed in dramatic, never-before-seen ways. Something had passed in front of the star and blocked its light, but what?

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Link found between comet/asteroid showers and mass extinctions

21 October 2015 Astronomy Now

For more than 30 years, scientists have argued about a controversial hypothesis relating to periodic mass extinctions and impact craters on Earth caused by comet and asteroid showers. Now scientists conclude that these events show a cyclical pattern over the studied period, with both impacts and extinction events taking place every 26 million years.

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Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting 2015 – report 4

9 July 2015 Astronomy Now

On the final day of NAM2015, science writer Kulvinder Singh Chadha investigates a new model that generates accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun’s 11-year heartbeat, suggesting that solar activity could fall by 60 percent during the 2030s to ‘mini ice age’ conditions. Kulvinder also looks back at the lighter moments and highlights of a successful conference.