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Hubble confirms new dark spot on Neptune

23 June 2016 Astronomy Now

New images captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) confirm the presence of a dark vortex roughly 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) across in the atmosphere of Neptune. Though similar features were seen during the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 and by the HST in 1994, this vortex is the first one observed on Neptune in the 21st century.

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Gluttonous young star may hold clues to planet formation

15 June 2016 Astronomy Now

In 1936, infant star FU Orionis began gobbling material from its surrounding disc of gas and dust with a sudden voraciousness, eating the equivalent of 18 Jupiters in the last 80 years. During a three-month binge, as matter turned into energy, the star became 100 times brighter, heating the disc around it to temperatures of up to 6,650 °C.

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Hubble finds universe is expanding faster than expected

2 June 2016 Astronomy Now

When Edwin Hubble discovered nearly 100 years ago that the universe was uniformly expanding in all directions, the finding was a big surprise. Then, in the mid-1990s, another shocker occurred: astronomers found that the expansion rate was accelerating, perhaps due to “dark energy.” Now, the latest measurements of our runaway universe suggest that it is expanding faster than astronomers thought.

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Hubble catches views of a jet rotating with Comet 252P/LINEAR

13 May 2016 Astronomy Now

A sequence of images taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows rotation of Comet 252P/LINEAR on 4 April 2016, roughly two weeks after the icy visitor came within 3.3 million miles of Earth, or about 14 times the distance between our planet and the Moon. These observations also represent the closest celestial object Hubble has observed, other than the Moon.

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A highly eccentric “hot Jupiter” exoplanet

29 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have observed the extreme temperature variations of HD 80606 b, a Jupiter-sized exoplanet with a highly eccentric, comet-like orbit that brings it scorchingly close to its parent star every 111 days. The researchers also calculated the planet’s rotation rate — the first exoplanet rotation rate ever obtained.

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Astronomers glimpse supernova shockwave for the first time

22 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have captured the earliest minutes of two exploding stars and for the first time seen a shockwave generated by a star’s collapsing core. The international team found a shockwave only in the smaller supernova — a finding that will help them understand these complex explosions that create many of the elements that make up the Earth and solar system.

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Methane snow on Pluto’s peaks

5 March 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons team has discovered a chain of exotic snowcapped mountains stretching across the dark expanse on Pluto informally named Cthulhu Regio. One of the dwarf planet’s most identifiable features, Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-THU-lu) is a bit larger than the state of Alaska and stretches nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator.

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Hubble team breaks cosmic distance record

4 March 2016 Astronomy Now

By pushing the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to its limits, astronomers have shattered the cosmic distance record by measuring the distance to the most remote galaxy ever seen in the universe. The galaxy, named GN-z11, has a redshift of 11.1, which corresponds to 400 million years after the Big Bang when the universe was only three percent of its current age.

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Monstrous “Smith Cloud” boomerangs back to the Milky Way

28 January 2016 Astronomy Now

New Hubble observations suggest that an immense cloud of hydrogen gas was launched from the outer regions of the galactic disc around 70 million years ago and is plummeting back toward our galaxy at nearly 700,000 miles per hour. If this so-called “Smith Cloud” could be seen in visible light, it would span the sky with an apparent diameter 30 times greater than the size of the full Moon.

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Space telescopes find “twins” of Eta Carinae in other galaxies

6 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, Eta Carinae outshines our Sun by 5 million times. The binary system consists of two massive stars in a tight 5.5-year orbit, shrouded in an expanding veil of gas and dust from an enormous eruption seen in the 1840s. Now a study using archival data from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes has found five similar objects in other galaxies for the first time.