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Tag Archives: Astrophysics

This Binary System is Destined to Become a Kilonova

Kilonovae are extraordinarily rare. Astronomers think there are only about 10 of them in the Milky Way. But they’re extraordinarily powerful and produce heavy elements like uranium, thorium, and gold. Usually, astronomers spot them after they’ve merged and emitted powerful gamma-ray bursts (GRBs.) But astronomers using the SMARTS telescope say they’ve spotted a kilonova progenitor for the first time. A ...

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The Outer Solar System Supplied a Surprising Amount of Earth’s Water

In a recent study published in Science, a team of researchers at Imperial College London examined 18 meteorites containing the volatile element zinc to help determine their origin, as it has been long hypothesized that Earth’s volatiles materials, including water, were derived from asteroids closer to our home planet. However, their results potentially indicate a much different origin story. Credit: ...

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It’s Already Hard Enough to Block a Single Star’s Light to See its Planets. But Binary Stars? Yikes

Detecting exoplanets was frontier science not long ago. But now we’ve found over 5,000 of them, and we expect to find them around almost every star. The next step is to characterize these planets more fully in hopes of finding ones that might support life. Directly imaging them will be part of that effort. But to do that, astronomers need ...

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Dust is Hiding how Powerful Quasars Really are

In the 1970s, astronomers discovered that the persistent radio source at the center of our galaxy was a supermassive black hole (SMBH). Today, this gravitational behemoth is known as Sagittarius A* and has a mass roughly 4 million times that of the Sun. Since then, surveys have shown that SMBHs reside at the center of most massive galaxies and play ...

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A new Propulsion System Could Levitate Vehicles in the Earth’s Upper Atmosphere

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that NASA also does atmospheric research too. While typically thought of as the province of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), America’s space agency also has a vested interest in exploring our atmosphere and in the technologies that enable us to do so. As such, its NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program provided ...

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Binary Dwarf Stars Found Orbiting Each Other Every 20 Hours. They Were Once Almost Touching

A team of astrophysicists has discovered a binary pair of ultra-cool dwarfs so close together that they look like a single star. They’re remarkable because they only take 20.5 hours to orbit each other, meaning their year is less than one Earth Day. They’re also much older than similar systems. We can’t see ultra-cool dwarf stars with the naked eye, ...

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Why Does the Butterfly Nebula Look Like This?

The Butterfly Nebula is changing, and astronomers are puzzled as to why these changes are occurring. Observations of this planetary nebula show dramatic changes in the butterfly’s ‘wings’ in just 11 years. “I’ve been comparing Hubble images for years and I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said Bruce Balick, a professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Washington. ...

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How Life Reshapes the Habitable Zone

Astronomers are very interested in the Habitable Zone of distant stars, which is the orbital radius where liquid water, and therefore potentially life, can exist on a planet in that region. But life itself changes the characteristics of a planet. New research suggestions that life is even capable of redefining what the Habitable Zone can mean. An artist’s impression of ...

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