Harvard-Smithsonian Center For Astrophysics News

A Quiet Space in the Core of the Perseus Cluster

July 15, 2016

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Astronomers Study the Quiet Intracluster Medium in the Core of the Perseus Cluster

Using the Hitomi satellite astronomers find that turbulence in the central region of the Perseus cluster is low, implying that errors in previous measurements of the masses of galaxy clusters using X-ray observations are small. Most galaxies lie in clusters, groupings of a few to many thousands of galaxies. Our Milky Way galaxy itself is […]

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Astronomers Discover Evidence of a ‘Direct-Collapse Black Hole’

July 6, 2016

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CR7 Provides Evidence for an Unusual Kind of Black Hole

A newly published study details evidence for a direct collapse black hole in the Lyman α source CR7. Astronomers Aaron Smith and Volker Bromm of The University of Texas at Austin, working with Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, have discovered evidence for an unusual kind of black hole born extremely early in […]

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Astronomers Measure the Intrinsic Shape of the Milky Way’s Black Hole

June 28, 2016

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Measuring the Shape of the Milky Way's Black Hole

A newly published study details how astronomers successfully measured the intrinsic shape of Sagittarius A* at 3.5-mm wavelength. At the heart of our galaxy’s center is Sgr A*, a supermassive black hole containing about four million solar-masses of material. Sgr A* is relatively faint, unlike the supermassive black holes in some other galaxies. This is […]

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The Search for Life on Other Worlds Continues

June 22, 2016

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Astronmers Seek Life on Other Worlds

The search for Earth-like planets has intensified as astronomers continue to look for potential life on other worlds. Now one of the leading exoplanet hunters is being recognized for his contributions to science. On Tuesday, Harvard University astronomy professor David Charbonneau was honored as one of three winners of the 2016 Blavatnik National Awards for […]

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ALMA Reveals Methanol in the TW Hydrae Protoplanetary Disk

June 20, 2016

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New Study Shows Comets are Forming in Distant Solar System

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have discovered the organic molecule methyl alcohol (methanol) in the protoplanetary disk around the star TW Hydrae. This is the first such detection of the compound in a young planet-forming disk, and points to a region where comets are forming. Astronomers announced that they have found the […]

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Astronomers Confirm Youngest Known Transiting Exoplanet

June 20, 2016

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New Study Confirms Youngest Transiting Exoplanet to Date

Using the MEarth-North and MEarth-South arrays, astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the youngest known planet, only 11 million years old, which transits its star once every 5.4 days. The existence of this infant world was first detected by NASA’s Kepler K2 mission. “Young stars tend to be very blotchy, with starspots that can mimic […]

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Astronomers Study T-Tauri Stars in the Chamaeleon Star-Forming Region

June 10, 2016

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Young Stars and Nebulosity in Chamaeleon

New research on young (T-Tauri) stars in the Chamaeleon and Rho Ophiuchus star-forming regions has determined their ages as being between about five – six million years old, as well as determining other properties. A newborn star typically goes through four stages of adolescence. It begins life as a protostar still enshrouded in its natal […]

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CEMP Stars Could Host Carbon Planets

June 7, 2016

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First Life Might Have Been Born on Carbon Planets

A newly published study from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggests that planet formation in the early universe might have created carbon planets consisting of graphite, carbides, and diamond. Our Earth consists of silicate rocks and an iron core with a thin veneer of water and life. But the first potentially habitable worlds to form […]

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Astronomers Use a New Method to Detect Hydrated Material on the Moon

June 1, 2016

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Signatures of Volatiles on the Moon

A new method to detect hydrated materials reveals evidence of volatiles in the lunar proton albedo. Prior to the Apollo missions to the Moon, scientists speculated that volatiles – including water – may have accumulated in permanently shaded regions at the poles. Then the Apollo era brought the return of lunar samples, enabling real measurements: […]

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Astronomers Examine the Circumstellar Dust Around KIC 8462852

May 13, 2016

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Constraints on the Circumstellar Dust around KIC 8462852

A new measurement of the dust around KIC 8462852 reveals that it seems to be consistent with the breakup of a cluster of Halley-like comets. The Kepler satellite was designed to search for Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone of stars by measuring dips in a star’s brightness as orbiting planets move across the stellar […]

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Astronomers Examine the Processes Involved in Generating Turbulence

May 6, 2016

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Astronomers Examine the Physical Processes Involved in Generating Turbulence

A new study of turbulence in galaxies concludes that in many cases it is generated not by star formation but by gravitational effects alone. The gas in galaxies is typically seen to be moving at very rapid, even supersonic velocities, providing clear evidence that the medium is highly turbulent. Looking more closely at gas clouds […]

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Evidence Points to Planet Nine Existing, But How Was it Produced?

May 3, 2016

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Update on Planet Nine

New research examines Planet Nine and the mystery behind its existence. Earlier this year scientists presented evidence for Planet Nine, a Neptune-mass planet in an elliptical orbit 10 times farther from our Sun than Pluto. Since then theorists have puzzled over how this planet could end up in such a distant orbit. New research by […]

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Astronomers Develop New Method to Determine Oxygen Abundance in Stars

April 29, 2016

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New Models Determine the Oxygen Abundance in Giant Stars

Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have developed a new computational method to determine the abundance of oxygen in these and similar stars, and in particular in giant stars. The code finds values that are more self-consistent than previous estimates. Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen and helium. […]

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Astronomers Gain a Better Understanding of Spica

April 26, 2016

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Stellar Modelling of Spica

A newly published study details Spica, an eccentric double-lined spectroscopic binary system with a β Cep type variable primary component. The familiar star Spica (Alpha Virginis) is the fifteenth brightest star in the night sky, in part because it is relatively nearby, only about 250 light-years away. It is easy to find by following the […]

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Zipf’s Law from Scale-free Geometry – Like Galaxies, Like Cities

April 18, 2016

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Zipf's Law from Scale-Free Geometry

Abstract: The spatial distribution of people exhibits clustering across a wide range of scales, from household (∼10−2 km) to continental (∼104 km) scales. Empirical data indicates simple power-law scalings for the size distribution of cities (known as Zipf’s law) and the population density fluctuations as a function of scale. Using techniques from random field theory […]

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APEX Explores the Onset of Pulsation-Driven Winds in Giant Stars

April 12, 2016

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Exploring the Onset of Pulsation-Driven Winds in Giant Stars

Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics used the APEX submillimeter telescope to study the velocity of the CO gas in the wind of the giant star EU Del to help constrain the mechanism responsible for driving its wind. Nearly all stars have winds. The Sun’s wind, which originates from its hot outer layer (corona), […]

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Hot Jupiter KELT-4Ab Boasts Rare Triple Suns

April 6, 2016

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Newly Discovered Hot Jupiter KELT-4Ab Boasts Rare Triple Suns

Using the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope, a team of astronomers has discovered an alien planet that has three suns in its sky. Eat your heart out, Tatooine: A newly discovered alien planet has not one, not two, but three suns in its sky. While scientists know of many planets with two suns, a planet with […]

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Astronomers Reveal a Planet Forming in an Earth-Like Orbit Around Young Star TW Hydrae

March 31, 2016

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Astronomers Find a Planet Forming in an Earth-like Orbit around a Young Star

Using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, astronomers reveal a planet-forming disk in unprecedented detail, revealing a series of concentric dusty bright rings and dark gaps, including intriguing features that suggest a planet with an Earth-like orbit is forming there. Disks of dust and gas that surround young stars are the formation sites of […]

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