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The supernova that wasn’t: a tale of three cosmic eruptions

4 September 2016 Astronomy Now

Combining images taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope over more than 20 years, a team of researchers has discovered that Eta Carinae, a very massive star system that has puzzled astronomers since it erupted in a supernova-like event in the mid-19th century, has a past that’s much more violent than they thought.

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X-ray echoes of a shredded star provide close-up of monster black hole

23 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Some 3.9 billion years ago in the heart of a distant galaxy, the intense tidal pull of a monster black hole shredded a star that passed too close. After X-rays produced in this event first reached Earth on 28 March 2011, scientists concluded that the outburst, now known as Swift J1644+57, also represented the sudden flare-up of a previously inactive black hole.

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Pluto’s interactions with the solar wind are unique

5 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Using data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on its Pluto flyby in July 2015, the dwarf planet has some characteristics less like that of a comet and more like much larger planets, according to the first analysis of Pluto’s unique interaction with the solar wind — the charged particles that spew off from the Sun into the solar system at a supersonic 1 million mph.

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‘Starspot’ images of nearby star give insights into early Sun

4 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have used interferometry to create a time-lapse of the nearby star zeta Andromedae over one of its 18-day rotations that show starspots — sunspots outside our solar system. The pattern of spots on the star is very different from their typical arrangement on our Sun, challenging current theories of how stars’ magnetic fields influence their evolution.

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Planet Nine: a world that shouldn’t exist

3 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Earlier this year scientists presented evidence for Planet Nine, a Neptune-mass planet in an elliptical orbit 10 times farther from our Sun than Pluto. New research examining theories how this planet could end up in such a distant orbit finds that most scenarios have low probabilities. Therefore, the presence of Planet Nine remains a bit of a mystery.

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Tiny supermassive black hole discovered in dwarf disc galaxy

12 August 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-metre Clay Telescope in Chile have identified the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected in the centre of a galaxy. This oxymoronic object could provide clues to how larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies 13 billion years or more in the past.

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Hubble reveals galaxy gas flow and star birth regulated by black-hole jets

10 August 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have uncovered a unique process for how the universe’s largest elliptical galaxies continue making stars long after their peak years of star birth. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope revealed brilliant knots and chains of hot, blue stars forming along the jets of active black holes found in the centres of giant elliptical galaxies.