Space


An artist's impression of a galactic protocluster forming in the early universe. Credit: European Southern Observatory, CC BY

By Nick Seymour, Curtin University

Clusters of galaxies have back-stories worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster: their existences are marked by violence, death and birth, arising after extragalactic pile-ups where groups of galaxies crashed into each other.

On April 23rd, 2014, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a red dwarf star - 10,000 times more powerful than the largest solar flare ever recorded.

'Just produced' in the title is cosmologically speaking -  the "superflare" came from one of the stars in a close binary system known as DG Canum Venaticorum (DG CVn), which is 60 light-years away. Both stars are dim red dwarfs with masses and sizes about one-third of our sun's. They orbit each other at about three times Earth's average distance from the sun, which is too close for Swift to determine which star erupted. 

Astronomers have used the APEX telescope to probe a huge galaxy cluster that is forming in the early Universe and revealed that much of the star formation taking place is not only hidden by dust, but also occurring in unexpected places.

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Our view of other solar systems just got a little more familiar, with the discovery of a planet 25,000 light-years away that resembles our own Uranus.

Astronomers have discovered hundreds of planets around the Milky Way, including rocky planets similar to Earth and gas planets similar to Jupiter, but there is a third type of planet in our solar system — part gas, part ice, like Uranus and Neptune — called an "ice giant" and researchers have spotted one outside Sol's orbit for the first time.

But let's not build a cute robot and send it there just yet; it's 25,000 light years away.


Dark matter is ill-defined and never detected so how can a group of astronomers say current measurements are off by 50 percent?

Most of the matter in the universe is hidden. It's not stars, it's not planets, it's not dust. No one knows what it is. But it must be something or gravity does not work. That something is the mystery. Using inference, if 4 percent of the universe is matter, and around 25 percent is dark matter (what is the rest? Dark energy, an even more fanciful conjecture) then the 'weight' of  dark matter just in our galaxy is 800,000,000,000 times the mass of the Sun, say a group of Australian astronomers who used a method developed almost 100 years ago for their estimate.



Artistic impression of the Milky Way galaxy. The blue halo of material surrounding the galaxy indicates the expected distribution of the mysterious dark matter. ESO/L. Calçada, CC BY

By Geraint Lewis, University of Sydney

A team of scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to make the most detailed global map yet of the glow from a giant, oddball planet orbiting another star, an object twice as massive as Jupiter and hot enough to melt steel, called WASP-43b.

WASP-43b is a world of extremes, where winds howl at the speed of sound from a 3,000-degree-Fahrenheit dayside to a pitch-black nightside when temperatures plunge to a relatively cool 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, still hot enough to melt silver.


A once-in-a-century supernova, dubbed SN2014J, in a the nearby galaxy Messier 82 - the Cigar Galaxy - 12 million light-years away has been spotted; a pulsating dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. The object, previously thought to be a black hole because it is so powerful, is in fact a pulsar - the incredibly dense rotating remains of a star. 

Dom Walton, a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech who works with NuSTAR data, says that with its extreme energy, this first ultraluminous pulsar takes the top prize in the weirdness category. Pulsars are typically between one and two times the mass of the sun. This new pulsar presumably falls in that same range but shines about 100 times brighter than theory suggests something of its mass should be able to.


Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of radioactive waves known in the universe but how they're made and where they come from have been something of a mystery. 

Using highly detailed radio telescope images, a team of astronomers have pinpointed the location where an explosion on the surface of a star, known as a nova, emitted gamma rays.  A nova occurs in a star that is part of a binary system – two stars orbiting one another. One star, known as a dense white dwarf, steals matter from the other and the interaction triggers a thermonuclear explosion that flings debris into space.

It was from this explosion from a system known as V959 Mon, located some 5,000 light years from Earth, that the researchers think the gamma rays were emitted.