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Out of this World

News from space and astronomy communities around the world.

It’s Raining on the Sun

By David Reneke

It’s raining on the Sun, and the asteroid Vesta may reshape our knowledge of planet formation.

Just like Earth, the Sun has spells of bad weather, with high winds and showers of rain. However, rain on the Sun is made of electrically charged gas (plasma) and falls at around 200,000 km/h from the outer solar atmosphere to the Sun’s corona, or surface. The thousands of droplets that make up a “coronal rain” shower are as big as Ireland.

Now a team of solar physicists from Trinity College Dublin have explained this intriguing phenomenon, with imagery that shows a type of “waterfall” in the Sun’s atmosphere.

Close, Cold Neighbour of Sun

By David Reneke

The coldest brown dwarf ever known has been discovered only 7.2 light-years away.

NASA’s Wide field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered what appears to be the coldest brown dwarf known – a dim, star-like body that is as frosty as the Earth’s North Pole. At a distance of only 7.2 light-years away, it is the fourth closest system to our Sun. The closest system, a trio of stars, is Alpha Centauri, a little over 4 light years away.

Possible “Exomoon” Found

By David Reneke

Astronomers find a possible “exomoon” and a dead galaxy orbiting the Milky Way.

Titan, Europa, Io and Phobos are just a few members of our solar system’s pantheon of moons. Are there others out there, orbiting planets beyond our sun? It appears so!

NASA-funded researchers have spotted the first signs of an "exomoon", and say the finding is a tantalising first step toward locating others. The discovery was made by watching a chance encounter of objects in our galaxy, which can be witnessed only once.

Scientists Detect the Cause of the Sun’s “Perfect Storm”

By David Reneke

Astronomers have deduced the cause of a massive solar storm, and set standards to prevent profiteering from the naming of space objects.

An international team of scientists has uncovered the origin and cause of an extreme space weather event that occurred on the Sun in 2012 and generated the fastest solar wind speed ever recorded directly by a solar wind instrument.

The formation of the rare, powerful storm showed striking, novel features that were detected by an instrument on NASA’s twin satellite Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission.

Australians Discover the Oldest Star

By David Reneke

Astronomers have discovered the oldest known star in the universe, and ice and water vapour have been detected on Ceres.

In an Australian first, a team led by astronomers at the Australian National University has discovered the oldest known star in the universe, which formed shortly after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. The discovery has allowed astronomers for the first time to study the chemistry of the first stars, giving scientists a clearer idea of what the universe was like in its infancy.

Dusty Surprise around Giant Black Hole

By David Reneke

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer has gathered the most detailed observations ever of the dust around the huge black hole at the centre of an active galaxy.

Rather than finding all of the glowing dust in a doughnut-shaped torus around the black hole, as expected, the astronomers found that much of it is located above and below the torus.

These observations show that dust is being pushed away from the black hole as a cool wind – a surprising finding that challenges current theories and tells us how supermassive black holes evolve and interact with their surroundings.

Galactic Cloud Map Takes Shape

By David Reneke

Dave Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

An international team led by University of NSW astronomers has begun to map the location of the most massive and mysterious objects in our galaxy: the giant gas clouds where new stars are born. Using the 22-metre Mopra Millimetre Wave Telescope at Coonabarabran, which narrowly escaped devastation in a recent bushfire, the team has been identifying galactic clouds of molecular gas, which can be up to 100 light-years across, from the carbon monoxide they contain.

The Weather on Kepler-7b

Dave Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have created the first cloud map of a planet beyond our solar system, a sizzling Jupiter-like world known as Kepler-7b. The planet is marked by high clouds in the west and clear skies in the east. Previous studies from Spitzer have resulted in temperature maps of planets orbiting other stars, but this is the first look at cloud structures on a distant world.

Probing Stellar Nurseries

By David Reneke

David Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

An international team of astronomers has begun to map the location of the most massive and mysterious objects in our galaxy: the giant gas clouds where new stars are born. The team is searching for carbon monoxide as a marker of galactic clouds of molecular gas that can be up to 100 light years across.

The First 100,000 Years of the Universe

By David Reneke

Astronomers view the first 100,000 years of the universe, and NASA outlines the scientific goals for a future landed spacecraft mission to Europa.

A new analysis of cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation data by researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has taken the furthest look back through time yet – 100,000–300,000 years after the Big Bang – and provided tantalising new hints of what might have happened.