Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Out of this World

News from space and astronomy communities around the world.

New Horizons Spots Pluto’s Largest Moon

By David Reneke

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

Pluto is looming larger as NASA’s robotic spacecraft mission “New Horizons” heads for a rendezvous with the dwarf planet on 14 July 2015. It’s expected to be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and its moons. NASA may then also attempt fly-bys of one or more other Kuiper Belt objects.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Seeing the Unseeable

By David Reneke

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

This dramatic new image of cosmic clouds in the constellation of Orion reveals what seems to be a fiery ribbon in the sky. This orange glow represents faint light coming from grains of cold interstellar dust, and was observed by the European Southern Observatory’s Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) in Chile.

This spectacular new picture shows just a part of a bigger complex called the Orion Molecular Cloud, in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter), a rich melting pot of bright nebulae, hot young stars and cold dust clouds.

It’s Raining on Saturn

By David Reneke

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

It seems crazy to talk about rain on Saturn, but it turns out to be true. Saturn’s rings give off a form of rain that falls onto the planet below, covering larger areas than previously thought.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

The Universe’s Stellar Baby Boom

By David Reneke

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

Observations with the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) in northern Chile, which celebrated its inauguration on 13 March, show that the most vigorous bursts of star birth in the cosmos took place much earlier than previously thought.

The most intense bursts of star birth are thought to have occurred in the early universe in massive, bright galaxies. These starburst galaxies convert vast reservoirs of cosmic gas and dust into new stars at a furious pace – many hundreds of times faster than in stately spiral galaxies like our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Stars Can Be Late Parents

By David Reneke

Astronomers weigh a proto-planetary disk while miners set their sights on passing asteroids for gold and other valuable minerals.

This new decade has already heralded in a significant number of exciting cosmological discoveries, and the surprises continue in the relatively new field of extra-solar astronomy. Using the unique capabilities of the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, astronomers have accurately “weighed” a star’s disc and found it still has enough mass to spawn 50 Jupiter-sized planets several million years after most other stars have already given birth.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Siding Spring Observatory Survives Fire Threat

By David Reneke

Most of Australia stood mesmerised in January as a fire raged across the Warrumbungle National Park in NSW, which is home to Australia’s world-class optical and infrared telescopes at Siding Spring Observatory.

It was the worst fire in the state’s history, burning 40,000 hectares on a 100 km front.

Ironically it was almost 10 years ago to the day that fires destroyed the Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra. Professional and amateur astronomers around the world held their breath. Could this really be happening again?

The Most Distant Object in the Universe

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

By combining the power of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and one of nature’s zoom lenses, astronomers have found what is probably the most distant galaxy yet seen in the universe. This object offers a view of when the universe was only 3% of its present age of 13.7 billion years.

We actually see the newly discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, as it was 420 million years after the Big Bang. Its light has travelled for 13.3 billion years to reach Earth, which corresponds to a massive redshift of approximately 11.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Citizen Scientists Find Exoplanet

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

A joint effort of citizen scientists and professional astronomers has led to the first reported case of a planet orbiting twin suns that in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars.

Aided by volunteers using the planethunters.org website, a Yale-led international team of astronomers identified and confirmed the discovery of the phenomenon, which is called a “circumbinary planet” in a four-star system.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Magnetars and Exoplanets

By Dave Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

“Impossible” Magnetar Found

A new star has been discovered that almost defies description. It has a magnetic field 20,000 times stronger and a mass 35 times than that of the Sun. That’s nearly 10 times stronger than what has been detected around any other high mass star! It’s no surprise that astronomers call it a “magnetar”.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Black Holes Grow Fat by Eating Stars

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

Black holes are objects in space so dense that not even light can escape their gravity, although powerful jets of light and energy can be emitted from a black hole’s vicinity as gas and stars are sucked into it.

Small black holes result from the collapse of individual stars, but the centres of most galaxies – including our own Milky Way – are occupied by supermassive black holes with masses between one million and ten billion times that of our Sun.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com