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Station-bound instrument to open new chapter in the story of cosmic rays

9 August 2017 Stephen Clark

Physicists are gearing up to send a re-engineered science instrument originally designed for lofty balloon flights high in Earth’s atmosphere to the International Space Station next week to broaden their knowledge of cosmic rays, subatomic particles traveling on intergalactic routes that could hold the key to unlocking mysteries about supernovas, black holes, pulsars and dark matter.

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Gamma-ray burst captured in unprecedented detail

27 July 2017 Astronomy Now

Gamma-ray bursts are among the most energetic and explosive events in the universe. They are also short-lived, lasting from a few milliseconds to about a minute, making it tough for astronomers to observe a gamma-ray burst in detail. Using a wide array of ground- and space-based telescope observations, an international team constructed one of the most detailed descriptions of a gamma-ray burst to date.

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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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Worldwide pro-am help sought for comet trio study

24 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Amateur and professional astronomers are invited to provide observations of comets 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák, 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, and 46P/Wirtanen that will pass by Earth at distances ranging from 0.08 to 0.15 astronomical units. Such close approaches of a trio of comets within the next two years are rare and typically occur only once every few decades.

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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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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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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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Astronomers catch a black hole shredding a star to pieces

22 October 2015 Astronomy Now

When a star comes too close to the intense gravity of black hole, the resulting tidal forces can rip the star apart. In these so-called tidal disruptions, some of the stellar debris is flung outward at high speeds, while the rest falls toward the black hole, causing a distinct X-ray flare that can last for years. A team of astronomers has observed a tidal disruption event in galaxy PGC 043234 that lies about 290 million light-years from Earth.

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New Horizons finds blue skies and water ice on Pluto

8 October 2015 Astronomy Now

The first colour images of Pluto’s atmospheric hazes returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft last week — seen here backlit by the Sun — reveal that the hazes are blue. Also, in a second significant finding, New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on the dwarf planet.