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Latest Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Stories

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2009-04-29 10:20:00

It sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie: rogue black holes roaming our galaxy, threatening to swallow anything that gets too close. In fact, new calculations by Ryan O'Leary and Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) suggest that hundreds of massive black holes, left over from the galaxy-building days of the early universe, may wander the Milky Way. Good news, however: Earth is safe. The closest rogue black hole should reside thousands of light-years away. Astronomers are...

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2009-03-19 16:45:00

Does a twin Earth exist somewhere in our galaxy? Astronomers are getting closer and closer to finding an Earth-sized planet in an Earth-like orbit. NASA's Kepler spacecraft just launched to find such worlds. Once the search succeeds, the next questions driving research will be: Is that planet habitable? Does it have an Earth-like atmosphere? Answering those questions will not be easy. Due to its large mirror and location in outer space, the James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled for launch in...

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2009-03-16 13:45:00

A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope offers a rare view of an imminent collision between the cores of two merging galaxies, each powered by a black hole with millions of times the mass of the sun. The galactic cores are in a single, tangled galaxy called NGC 6240, located 400-million light years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. Millions of years ago, each core was the dense center of its own galaxy before the two galaxies collided and ripped each other apart. Now, these cores...

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2009-02-24 09:39:37

On long, dark winter nights, the constellation of Orion the Hunter dominates the sky. Within the Hunter's sword, the Orion Nebula swaddles a cluster of newborn stars called the Trapezium. These stars are young but powerful, each one shining with the brilliance of 100,000 Suns. They are also massive, containing 15 to 30 times as much material as the Sun. Where did the Trapezium stars come from? The question is not as simple as it seems. When it comes to the theory of how massive stars form,...

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2009-01-20 09:35:00

Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have discovered a planet somewhat larger and more massive than Neptune orbiting a star 120 light-years from Earth. While Neptune has a diameter 3.8 times that of Earth and a mass 17 times Earth's, the new world (named HAT-P-11b) is 4.7 times the size of Earth and has 25 Earth masses. HAT-P-11b was discovered because it passes directly in front of (transits) its parent star, thereby blocking about 0.4 percent of the star's light....

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2009-01-05 15:40:33

The planet Jupiter gained weight in a hurry during its infancy. It had to, since the material from which it formed probably disappeared in just a few million years, according to a new study of planet formation around young stars. Smithsonian astronomers examined the 5 million-year-old star cluster NGC 2362 with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which can detect the signatures of actively forming planets in infrared light. They found that all stars with the mass of the Sun or greater have lost...

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2009-01-06 07:40:00

Milky Way Bigger Than Once Thought The Milky Way packs a big punch. In fact, scientists discovered that it is larger than Andromeda - not the little sister it was once thought to be. Scientists mapped the Milky Way in a more detailed, three-dimensional way and found that it's bulkier and spinning faster than astronomers once thought. The Milky Way is denser, with 50 percent more mass, and 15 percent larger in breadth. The research was presented Monday at the American Astronomical Society's...

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2008-11-18 13:55:00

The powerful black holes at the center of massive galaxies and galaxy clusters act as hearts to the systems, pumping energy out at regular intervals to regulate the growth of the black holes themselves, as well as star formation, according to new data from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Scientists from the University of Michigan, the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for...

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2008-10-16 14:00:00

Astronomers think that many - perhaps all - galaxies in the universe contain massive black holes at their centers. New observations with the Submillimeter Array now suggest that such colossal black holes were common even 12 billion years ago, when the universe was only 1.7 billion years old and galaxies were just beginning to form. The new conclusion comes from the discovery of two distant galaxies, both with black holes at their heart, which are involved in a spectacular collision. 4C60.07,...

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2008-09-18 13:45:00

Water is being blasted to pieces by a young star's laser-like jets, according to new observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The discovery provides a better understanding of how water -- an essential ingredient for life as we know it -- is processed in emerging solar systems. "This is a truly unique observation that will provide important information about the chemistry occurring in planet-forming regions, and may give us insights into the chemical reactions that made water and even...