Deep Sky Astronomy & Telescopes

An Unusual Pulsating Binary

July 29, 2016

A large part of the fascination of astronomy is the discovery of objects that don’t fit our standard definitions. KIC 8462852 — ‘Tabby’s Star’ — is deeply mysterious and high on my watchlist. But yesterday we also looked at CX330, a so-called FUor of the kind that brightens enormously over years of observation. Today we […]

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CX330: Distant (and Isolated) Star Formation

July 28, 2016

Given that we have fewer than a dozen examples, highly variable stars like the recently discovered CX330 have much to teach us. These stars have been nicknamed FUors, after FU Orionis, a pre-main sequence star that has shown huge variations in magnitude over the past century. Eruptions like these may be common, as Alan Boss […]

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Into the Nebula: Low-Mass Objects in Orion

July 12, 2016

Because we want to learn more about how stars form, we study the so-called Initial Mass Function, which tells us, for a given population of stars, the distribution of their initial masses. As one recent reference (the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Springer, 2011) puts it: “The initial mass function is the relative number of stars, as […]

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Calibrating Distances to Low Mass Stars

June 30, 2016

Accurate distances are critical for understanding the physical properties of brown dwarfs and low-mass stars. We need to know the intrinsic brightness of these objects to proceed, but we can’t know that until we have an idea of their distance. After all, a relatively faint star can seem much brighter if nearer to us, while […]

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Deep Stare into a Dusty Universe

June 29, 2016

It’s not often that I get the chance to back up and take a broad look at the universe, the kind of thing that reinforces my interest in cosmology and structure at the grandest scale. But today I’ll take my cue from the Royal Astronomical Society’s annual meeting, now underway in Nottingham UK, which gives […]

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Toward Gravitational Wave Astronomy

June 20, 2016

The second detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) instruments reminds us how much we gain when we move beyond the visible light observations that for so many millennia determined what people thought of the universe. In the electromagnetic spectrum, it took data at long radio wavelengths to show us the […]

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Supernova at Twilight

April 6, 2016

In his novel The Twilight of Briareus (John Day, 1974), Richard Cowper, who in reality was John Middleton Murry, Jr., wrote about a fictitious star called Delta Briareus that goes supernova (true, there is no constellation called Briareus, but bear with me). Because it is only 130 light years out, the supernova showers the Earth […]

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Aftermath: Debris Disk around a Red Giant

March 10, 2016

Debris disks around young stars are keys to understanding how planets form. But what about debris around older stars? We now have the best view ever achieved of the dusty disk around an aging star — a red giant — and we’re forced to ask whether such a debris disk, so similar to what we […]

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New Eyes on the Kuiper Belt

March 7, 2016

You probably recall how tricky it was to find 2014 MU69, the small Kuiper Belt Object that will be the next destination for our New Horizons probe. The actual extended mission to 2014 MU69 awaits a summer 2016 review within NASA, but because trajectory changes to get there could not be delayed, the New Horizons […]

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A New Kind of ‘Fast Radio Burst’

March 3, 2016

A new paper in Nature offers further information about Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), which we last looked at only a few days back. The February 24 post examined work on FRBs that were consistent with what has been seen before — transient pulses lasting mere milliseconds, while emitting huge amounts of energy (see Fast Radio […]

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