Known until now as a simple number in a catalogue, NGC 134, the 'Island in the Universe' that was observed by the European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik on a visit to ESO's Very Large Telescope at Paranal is replete with remarkable attributes, and the VLT has clapped its eyes on them.
Just like our own Galaxy, NGC 134 is a barred spiral with its spiral arms loosely wrapped around a bright, bar-shaped central region.
One feature that stands out is its warped disc. While a galaxy's disc is often pictured as a flat structure of gas and stars surrounding the galaxy's centre, a warped disc is a structure that, when viewed sideways, resembles a bent record album left out too long in the burning Sun.
Scientists using the largest cosmic ray observatory in the world, the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina, have made an important discovery about the highest-energy cosmic rays that hit the Earth - and the discovery leads back to supermassive black holes.
In Science, the Pierre Auger Collaboration announces that Active Galactic Nuclei - thought to be powered by supermassive black holes that devour large amounts of matter - are the most likely candidate for the source of the highest-energy cosmic rays that hit Earth.
The scientists found that the sources of the highest-energy particles are not distributed uniformly across the sky.
When the stars are shining above the atmosphere, they give off radiation across a wide spread of wavelengths. As Earth rotates, the star appears to sink down. When that happens, the atmosphere acts as a filter, blocking out certain wavelengths of the star’s radiation. While nice to see with your girlfriend, of importance to astronomers is that the blocked wavelengths are representative of the molecules and atoms in the planet’s atmosphere.
It's known as stellar occultation. Jean-Loup Bertaux, Service d'Aeronomie du CNRS, France was the first to suggest its use on an ESA mission. It works by watching stars from space, while they drop behind the atmosphere of a planet under investigation, before disappearing from view below the planet’s horizon.
Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have found that a supernova discovered last year was caused by two colliding white dwarf stars. The white dwarfs were siblings orbiting each other. They slowly spiraled inward until they merged, touching off a titanic explosion. CfA observations show the strongest evidence yet of what was, until now, a purely theoretical mechanism for creating a supernova.
"This finding shows that nature may be richer than we suspected, with more than one way to make a white dwarf explode," said Harvard graduate student and first author Malcolm Hicken.
Supermassive black holes can produce powerful winds that shape a galaxy and determine their own growth, confirms a group of scientists from Rochester Institute of Technology.
The RIT team has, for the first time, observed the vertical launch of rotating winds from glowing disks of gas, known as accretion disks, surrounding supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. The findings are reported in the Nov. 1 issue of Nature.
Gas flowing into a supermassive black hole first accumulates in a rapidly spinning accretion disk, which forms the engine of a quasar, a type of active galactic nucleus found in some galaxies and an extremely powerful source of radiation.
The "dark matter" that comprises a still-undetected one-quarter of the universe is not a uniform cosmic fog, says a University of California, Berkeley, astrophysicist, but instead forms dense clumps that move about like dust motes dancing in a shaft of light.
In a paper from Physical Review D, Chung-Pei Ma, an associate professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley, and Edmund Bertschinger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), prove that the motion of dark matter clumps can be modeled in a way similar to the Brownian motion of air-borne dust or pollen.
Their findings should provide astrophysicists with a new way to calculate the evolution of this ghost universe of dark matter and reconcile it with the observable universe, Ma said.
Two of ESO's telescopes captured various stages in the life of a star in a single image - a cosmic ghost.
ESO PR Photo 42a/05 shows the area surrounding the stellar cluster NGC 2467, located in the southern constellation of Puppis ("The Stern"). With an age of a few million years at most, it is a very active stellar nursery, where new stars are born continuously from large clouds of dust and gas.
The image, looking like a colorful cosmic ghost or a gigantic celestial Mandrill  , contains the open clusters Haffner 18 (center) and Haffner 19 (middle right: it is located inside the smaller pink region - the lower eye of the Mandrill), as well as vast areas of ionized gas.
Astronomers have found possible proofs of stellar vampirism in the globular cluster 47 Tucanae. Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, they found that some hot, bright, and apparently young stars in the cluster present less carbon and oxygen than the majority of their sisters.
XEUS, which stands for X-ray Evolving Universe Spectroscopy, aims to study the fundamental laws of the Universe. With unprecedented sensitivity to the hot, million-degree universe, XEUS will explore key areas of contemporary astrophysics: growth of supermassive black holes, cosmic feedback and galaxy evolution, evolution of large-scale structures, extreme gravity and matter under extreme conditions, the dynamical evolution of cosmic plasmas and cosmic chemistry.
Professor Martin Turner of the University of Leicester is also Chair of the XEUS International Steering committee.
Fame was fleeting for the 16-solar-mass black hole in the galaxy M33, announced on October 17 as the record holder for the heaviest black hole orbiting a star.
A new black hole, with a mass 24 to 33 times that of our Sun, is more massive than scientists have detected - or expected - for a black hole that formed from a dying star.
The newly discovered object belongs to the category of "stellar-mass" black holes. Formed in the death throes of massive stars, they are smaller than the monster black holes found in galactic cores.