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Hunt for Planet 9 reveals extremely distant solar system objects

30 August 2016 Astronomy Now

In the race to discover a proposed ninth planet in our solar system, astronomers are conducting the largest, deepest survey for objects beyond Neptune and the Kuiper Belt. Nearly 10 percent of the sky has been explored to date using some of the largest and most advanced telescopes, revealing several never-before-seen objects at extreme distances from the Sun.

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Newly discovered distant solar system objects resonate with Neptune

22 July 2016 Astronomy Now

The search for distant solar system objects has found two more small worlds far outside the orbit of Neptune, beyond the Kuiper Belt. The new objects, 2014 FZ71 and 2015 FJ345, are in resonance with Neptune’s orbit, implying that these worlds either have interacted with Neptune in the past or are continuing to do so.

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Dawn maps Ceres craters where water ice can accumulate

10 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Scientists with NASA’s Dawn mission have identified permanently shadowed regions on the northern hemisphere of dwarf planet Ceres. Most of these areas likely have been cold enough to trap water ice for a billion years, suggesting that ice deposits could exist there now. These permanently shadowed regions could be colder than those on Mercury or the Moon.

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A ‘tail’ of cometary twins buzzing Earth on 21-22 March

19 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Comet 252P/LINEAR will zip past Earth on Monday, 21 March at a range of about 3.3 million miles. The following day, comet P/2016 BA14 will safely fly by our planet at a distance of about 2.2 million miles, or nine times the distance to the Moon. This will be the second closest flyby of a comet in recorded history next to comet D/1770 L1 (Lexell) in 1770.

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Evidence for an impact event on main-belt asteroid Griseldis

13 November 2015 Astronomy Now

The main-belt asteroid (493) Griseldis, that lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, was probably hit by another object last March. The results were reported on 12 November at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society near Washington, DC.

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Skull-shaped Halloween close fly-by object is likely a dead comet

31 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Somewhat appropriately spooky for Halloween in recent radar images, 600 metre-wide near-Earth object 2015 TB145 dashes by our planet today. Now believed to be a dead comet that has shed its volatiles after numerous passes around the Sun, the object makes its closest approach to Earth at 5pm GMT. UK observers with clear skies may see it with modest telescopes in the early evening.

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Halloween asteroid’s close fly-by a treat for radar astronomers

26 October 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA scientists are tracking the upcoming Halloween flyby of asteroid 2015 TB145 with several optical observatories and the radar capabilities of the agency’s Deep Space Network at Goldstone, California. Only discovered sixteen days ago, the 400-metre-wide asteroid will fly past Earth at a safe distance slightly farther than the Moon’s orbit on 31 October at 5:05pm GMT.

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A sharp-eyed future for historic Kitt Peak telescope

13 October 2015 Astronomy Now

The 2.1-metre telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory will be transformed into the first dedicated adaptive optics (AO) observatory for astronomy. This system, named Robo-AO KP, will allow astronomers to study large numbers of astronomical objects in high resolution, spanning science from planetary to stellar, and exoplanetary to extragalactic.

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Searching for orphan stars amid starbirth fireworks in Orion

29 September 2015 Astronomy Now

A new Gemini Observatory image reveals the remarkable “fireworks” that accompany the birth of stars. The picture captures in unprecedented clarity the fascinating structures of a gas jet complex emanating from a stellar nursery at supersonic speeds. Researchers believe they have also found a collection of runaway (orphan) stars that result from all this activity.