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Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

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2007-08-06 16:15:00

Four galaxies are slamming into each other and kicking up billions of stars in one of the largest cosmic smash-ups ever observed. The clashing galaxies, spotted by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, will eventually merge into a single, behemoth galaxy up to 10 times as massive as our own Milky Way. This rare sighting provides an unprecedented look at how the most massive galaxies in the universe form. "Most of the galaxy mergers we already knew about are like compact cars crashing together,"...

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2007-05-23 15:55:00

Cambridge, MA -- Astronomers are hunting an elusive target: rogue black holes that have been ejected from the centers of their home galaxies. Some doubted that the quarry could be spotted, since a black hole must be gobbling matter from an accretion disk in order for that matter to shine. And if a black hole is ripped from the core of its home galaxy and sent hurling into the outskirts, the thinking goes, then its accretion disk might be left behind. New calculations by theorist Avi Loeb...

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2007-05-02 10:23:51

Cambridge, MA - Today, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) announced that they have found the most massive known transiting extrasolar planet. The gas giant planet, called HAT-P-2b, contains more than eight times the mass of Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system. Its powerful gravity squashes it into a ball only slightly larger than Jupiter. HAT-P-2b shows other unusual characteristics. It has an extremely oval orbit that brings it as close as 3.1...

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2007-05-02 00:00:00

Cambridge, MA - Two rambunctious young stars are destroying their natal dust cloud with powerful jets of radiation, in an infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The stars are located approximately 600 light-years away in a cosmic cloud called BHR 71. "BHR 71 has been a favorite object of mine for years," said Tyler Bourke of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "This spectacular new Spitzer image really shows off the changes in the jets, in ways impossible at other...

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2007-04-17 10:45:00

Cambridge, MA - Astronomers have found the lowest mass white dwarf known in our galaxy: a Saturn-sized ball of helium containing only about one-fifth the mass of the Sun. In addition, they have spotted the source of the white dwarf's radical weight-loss plan. An unseen companion, likely another white dwarf, has sucked away much of the tiny white dwarf's material, leaving it a shadow of its former self. "This star is bizarre," said Warren Brown of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for...

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2007-03-21 12:15:00

Cambridge, MA -- Even though the sun is the closest star to Earth and has been studied for hundreds of years, it still holds surprises. The recently launched Hinode spacecraft is one of the latest observatories to probe the sun from afar. One of three instruments on board Hinode is the X-Ray Telescope (XRT), which was developed and built by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Already, stunning X-ray views from the XRT are surprising...

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2007-01-09 15:35:00

Seattle, WA - The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) are two of the Milky Way's closest neighboring galaxies. Both are visible only in the southern hemisphere. By studying their orbits, astronomers can learn about both the histories of the Clouds and the structure of the Milky Way (from its influence on the Clouds' motions). Astronomers Nitya Kallivayalil and Charles Alcock (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Roeland van der Marel (Space Telescope...

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2007-01-08 13:15:00

Seattle, WA - Astronomers have proposed an improved method of searching for intelligent extraterrestrial life using instruments like one now under construction in Australia. The Low Frequency Demonstrator (LFD) of the Mileura Wide-Field Array (MWA), a facility for radio astronomy, theoretically could detect Earth-like civilizations around any of the 1,000 nearest stars. "Soon, we may be eavesdropping on signals from Galactic civilizations," says theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian...

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2006-11-20 15:35:00

Cambridge, MA - The existence of black holes is perhaps the most fascinating prediction of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. When any mass, such as a star, becomes more compact than a certain limit, its own gravity becomes so strong that the object collapses to a singular point, a black hole. In the popular mind, this immense gravity well is a place where strange things happen. And now, a Center for Astrophysics-led team has measured a stellar-mass black hole spinning so rapidly -...

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2006-10-18 12:55:00

The Andromeda galaxy, the closest large spiral to the Milky Way, appears calm and tranquil as it wheels through space. But appearances can be deceiving. Astronomers have new evidence that Andromeda was involved in a violent head-on collision with the neighboring dwarf galaxy Messier 32 (M32) more than 200 million years ago. "Like a CSI team, we gathered clues and reconstructed the scene of the crime," said Pauline Barmby (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), a member of the research...


Word of the Day
jument
  • A beast of burden; also, a beast in general.
'Jument' ultimately comes from the Latin 'jugum,' yoke.
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