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A new perspective on how Pluto’s “icy heart” came to be

1 December 2016 Astronomy Now

Pluto’s “icy heart” is a bright, two-lobed feature on its surface that was discovered by NASA’s New Horizons team in 2015. The heart’s western lobe, informally named Sputnik Planitia, is a deep basin generally thought to have been created by a smaller body striking Pluto at extremely high speed, but a new study suggests a different origin.

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New analysis supports subsurface ocean on Pluto

16 November 2016 Astronomy Now

A liquid ocean lying deep beneath Pluto’s frozen surface is the best explanation for features revealed by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, according to a new analysis. The idea that Pluto has a subsurface ocean is not new, but the study provides the most detailed investigation yet of its likely role in the evolution of key features such as the vast, low-lying plain known as Sputnik Planitia (formerly Sputnik Planum).

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Did early Earth spin on its side?

1 November 2016 Astronomy Now

New theoretical modelling of the ancient history of the Earth and the Moon suggests that the giant collision that spawned our natural satellite may have left Earth spinning very fast, and with its spin axis highly tilted. The simulations give new insight into the question of whether planets with big moons are more likely to have moderate climates and life.

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Keck Observatory measures oxygen in galaxy 12 billion years ago

4 August 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have made the first accurate measurement of the abundance of oxygen in a distant galaxy. Oxygen is created inside stars and released into interstellar gas when stars die. Quantifying the amount of oxygen, the third-most abundant chemical element in the universe, is key to understanding how matter cycles in and out of galaxies.

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Evidence of water clouds found in spectrum of coldest brown dwarf

7 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Since its detection in 2014, the brown dwarf known as WISE 0855 has fascinated astronomers. Only 7.2 light-years from Earth, it is the coldest known object outside of our solar system. Now, a team led by astronomers has succeeded in obtaining strong evidence for the existence of clouds of water or water ice — the first such clouds detected outside our solar system.

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Gamma rays from distant blazar galaxy tell story of an epic escape

16 December 2015 Astronomy Now

In April 2015, after travelling for about half the age of the universe, a flood of powerful gamma rays from a distant galaxy slammed into Earth’s atmosphere. Observations of PKS 1441+25, a rare type of galaxy called a blazar, provide a look into the environment near a supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s centre and offer a glimpse into the state of the cosmos 7 billion years ago.