Space

A recent and famous image of HL Tau in deep space marks the first time we've seen a forming planetary system, according to a team of astrophysicists who found that circular gaps in a disk of dust and gas swirling around the young star HL Tau are in fact made by forming planets.

The image of HL Tau, taken in October 2014 by the state-of-the-art Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in Chile's Atacama Desert, sparked a flurry of scientific debate.

The HL Tau system is less than a million years old, about 17.9 billion kilometres in radius and resides 450 light years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.


Astronomers have reported an exceptionally luminous galaxy from when the universe was only 5% of its present age - more than 13 billion years in the past.

The galaxy, EGS-zs8-1, was originally identified based on its particular colors in images from NASA's Hubble and Spitzer telescopes and the team determined its exact distance from Earth using the powerful MOSFIRE instrument on the W.M. Keck Observatory's 10-meter telescope in Hawaii. It is the most distant galaxy currently measured and one of the brightest and most massive objects in the early universe. 





Italy, one of the key players of the European Space Agency (ESA), is continuously building up its important role in human spaceflight and in international space cooperation.

A team of high school students analyzed data from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) and discovered a never-before-seen pulsar which has the widest orbit of any around a neutron star - one among only a handful of double neutron star systems.

Pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars, the superdense remains of massive stars that have exploded as supernovas. As a pulsar spins, lighthouse-like beams of radio waves, streaming from the poles of its powerful magnetic field, sweep through space.

When one of these beams sweeps across the Earth, radio telescopes can capture the pulse of radio waves.


The original NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation - in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16 - was taken two decades ago and immediately became its most famous picture. Since then, these billowing clouds, which extend over a few light-years, have awed the public. 


For not being a planet, Pluto certainly has some intriguing features of one.  NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent back images of bright and dark regions on the surface of faraway Pluto as it gets closer to flyby in mid-July. 

The images were captured using its telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera in early to mid-April, as it closed within 70 million miles. A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed images beamed back to Earth. New Horizons scientists interpreted the data to reveal the dwarf planet has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area at one pole that may be a polar cap.

As the search continues for Earth-size planets orbiting at just the right distance from their star, a region termed the habitable zone, the number of potentially life-supporting planets grows. In two decades we have progressed from having no extrasolar planets to having too many to search. Narrowing the list of hopefuls requires looking at extrasolar planets in a new way.

But Tau Ceti already doesn't make the cut.


I am presently in Athens for a few days, to give a seminar and meet the local group of CMS physicists. So I took the chance to visit yesterday evening the Astrophysics department of the University of Athens, where at the top floor is housed a nice 40cm Cassegrain telescope (see picture below). There I joined a small crowd which professor Kosmas Gazeas entertained with views of Jupiter, the Moon, Venus, and a few other celestial targets. I need to thank my friend Nadia, a fellow physicist and amateur astronomer, for inviting us to the event.


What does it mean when a supermassive black hole exists in a place where it isn't supposed to exist? It's another puzzle of the early universe.

Henize 2-10 is a small irregular galaxy that is not too far away, at least in astronomical terms: 30 million light-years. "This is a dwarf starburst galaxy -- a small galaxy with regions of very rapid star formation -- about 10 percent of the size of our own Milky Way," says Ryan Hickox, an assistant professor in Dartmouth's Department of Physics and Astronomy. "If you look at it, it's a blob, but it surprisingly harbors a central black hole."


51 Pegasi b, about 50 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Pegasus, was discovered in 1995 and was the the first confirmed exoplanet to be found orbiting an ordinary star like our Sun. It is the archetypal Hot Jupiter -- a class of planets similar in size and mass to Jupiter but orbiting much closer to their parent stars.

Since that landmark discovery, more than 1,900 exoplanets in 1,200 planetary systems have been confirmed, but 51 Pegasi b now has another "first" - it has been directly detected in visible light.