Heavens

Astronomers have come up with a new and improved method for measuring the masses of millions of solitary stars, especially those with planetary systems.

Getting accurate measurements of how much stars weigh not only plays a crucial role in understanding how stars are born, evolve and die, but it is also essential in assessing the true nature of the thousands of exoplanets now known to orbit most other stars.

A riot of colour and light dances through this peculiarly shaped galaxy, NGC 5256. Its smoke-like plumes are flung out in all directions and the bright core illuminates the chaotic regions of gas and dust swirling through the galaxy's centre. Its odd structure is due to the fact that this is not one galaxy, but two -- in the process of a galactic collision.

The OmegaCAM camera on ESO's VLT Survey Telescope has captured this glittering view of the stellar nursery called Sharpless 29. Many astronomical phenomena can be seen in this giant image, including cosmic dust and gas clouds that reflect, absorb, and re-emit the light of hot young stars within the nebula.

It's beginning to look a lot like the holiday season in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a blizzard of stars, which resembles a swirling snowstorm in a snow globe.

The stars are residents of the globular star cluster Messier 79, or M79, located 41,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Lepus. The cluster is also known as NGC 1904.

Astronomers have used two Australian radio telescopes and several optical telescopes to study complex mechanisms that are fuelling jets of material blasting away from a black hole 55 million times more massive than the Sun.

In research published today, the international team of scientists used the telescopes to observe a nearby radio galaxy known as Centaurus A.

New simulations show that the search for life on other planets may well be more difficult than previously assumed, in research published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The study indicates that unusual air flow patterns could hide atmospheric components from telescopic observations, with direct consequences for formulating the optimal strategy for searching for (oxygen-producing) life such as bacteria or plants on exoplanets.

The MUSE HUDF Survey team, led by Roland Bacon of the Centre de recherche astrophysique de Lyon (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1/ENS de Lyon), France, used MUSE (Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer/ to observe the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (heic0406/, a much-studied patch of the southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace).

Using more than half a century of observations, Japanese astronomers have discovered that the microwaves coming from the Sun at the minimums of the past five solar cycles have been the same each time, despite large differences in the maximums of the cycles.

In Japan, continuous four-frequency solar microwave observations (1, 2, 3.75 and 9.4 GHz) began in 1957 at the Toyokawa Branch of the Research Institute of Atmospherics, Nagoya University. In 1994 the telescopes were relocated to NAOJ Nobeyama Campus, where they have continued observations up to the present.

Equipped with Newton's law of universal gravitation (published in Principia 330 years ago) and powerful computational resources (used to apply the law to more than 10,000 interacting bodies), a young Brazilian researcher and his former postdoctoral supervisor have just proposed a new physical model to explain the origin of water on Earth and the other Earth-like objects in the Solar System.

When our Sun erupts with giant explosions -- such as bursts of radiation called solar flares -- we know they can affect space throughout the solar system as well as near Earth. But monitoring their effects requires having observatories in many places with many perspectives, much the way weather sensors all over Earth can help us monitor what's happening with a terrestrial storm.