At the centre of this beautiful NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a Wolf–Rayet star known as WR 31a, located about 30,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina. The distinctive blue bubble is a Wolf–Rayet nebula — an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other gases expanding at a rate of around 137,000 miles per hour.
Astronomers are finding dozens of massive, so-called ‘runaway stars’ in our galaxy with the help of images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. When these speedy, massive stars plow through space, they can cause material to stack up in front of them, creating dramatic arc-shaped features called bow shocks.
Fast radio bursts (FRBs), brief yet brilliant eruptions of cosmic radio waves, have baffled astronomers since they were first reported nearly a decade ago. Though they appear to come from the distant universe, none of these enigmatic events has revealed more than the slimmest details about how and where it formed, until now.
Astrophysicists have used the National Science Foundation’s Blue Waters supercomputer to perform 3-D simulations of a mere 10 milliseconds in the collapse of a massive star into a neutron star, proving that these catastrophic events — often called hypernovae — can generate the enormous magnetic fields needed to explode the star and fire off bursts of gamma rays visible halfway across the universe.
A team of astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope has captured the most detailed images ever of the hypergiant star VY Canis Majoris. These observations show how the unexpectedly large size of the particles of dust surrounding the star enable it to lose an enormous amount of mass as it begins to die. This process, understood now for the first time, is necessary to prepare such gigantic stars to meet explosive demises as supernovae.
A team of UK scientists is attempting to build the first cosmobiological model to explore the habitability of the universe. Using a survey of more than 140,000 galaxies nearest to Earth, the team found that elliptical galaxies — rather than spirals like our Milky Way — could be the most probable “cradles of life”.
A team of scientists in Australia and the Netherlands has discovered powerful jets blasting out of a star system known as PSR J1023+0038 that consists of a super-dense neutron star in a close orbit with another, more normal star. It was previously thought that the only objects in the universe capable of forming such powerful jets were black holes.