Harvard-Smithsonian Center For Astrophysics News

Astrophysicists Show Milky Way Had a Blowout Bash 6 Million Years Ago

August 29, 2016

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New Study Shows Milky Way Had a Blowout Bash 6 Million Years Ago

New research from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows that the center of the Milky Way was once a very active place. The center of the Milky Way galaxy is currently a quiet place where a supermassive black hole slumbers, only occasionally slurping small sips of hydrogen gas. But it wasn’t always this way. A […]

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Exoplanet GJ 1132b Might Have a Thin Oxygen Atmosphere

August 18, 2016

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Venus-like Exoplanet GJ 1132b Might Have Oxygen Atmosphere

New research from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reveals that the Venus-like Exoplanet GJ 1132b might possess a thin, oxygen atmosphere – but no life due to its extreme heat. The distant planet GJ 1132b intrigued astronomers when it was discovered last year. Located just 39 light-years from Earth, it might have an atmosphere despite […]

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ALMA Images the Planetesimal Belt around HR8799

August 15, 2016

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Resolving the Planetesimal Belt of HR 8799

Using the ALMA submillimeter array, astronomers image the disk around HR8799 with a spatial scale as small as only thirty-two au, enough to probe the inner zones of the disk. Planets develop from the dusty placental disk of material that surrounds a star after it begins to shine. The dust in that disk, according to […]

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Astronomers Discover Chiral Molecules in Interstellar Space

August 8, 2016

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Astronomers Chiral Molecules in Space

A team of astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has detected chiral molecules in interstellar space. Life on Earth is based on chiral molecules. Chiral molecules are those that have a “handedness,” that is, they take one of two forms, identical in chemical composition but with mirror image shapes – like our right and […]

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Is Life on Earth Premature from a Cosmic Perspective?

August 3, 2016

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Is Life on Our Planet Premature from a Cosmic Perspective?

New research from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics examines the possibility that present-day life is actually premature from a cosmic perspective. The universe is 13.8 billion years old, while our planet formed just 4.5 billion years ago. Some scientists think this time gap means that life on other planets could be billions of years older […]

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Astronomers Reveal ‘Orphaned Protostars’

July 26, 2016

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Astronomers Study Protostars at Low Extinction in Orion A

New research from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics concludes that ten protostellar candidates are indeed protostars even though they are not presently embedded in a cloud. Stars form as gravity contracts the gas and dust in an interstellar cloud until clumps develop that are dense enough to coalesce into stars. Precisely how this happens, however, […]

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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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