From gravitational waves to weird radio signals, 2016 has been a busy year in the field of astronomy. With the constant deluge of ongoing news and controversies, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the world of outer space. So here are the top 10 stories in astronomical discoveries you should know about.
Recently, we began hearing rumors that an Earth-like planet had been found within the habitable zone of the next-nearest star to us, Proxima Centauri. According to the European Southern Observatory and other institutions, those statements have been confirmed. Yes, there is a new planet, like Earth, within its star’s habitable zone, and relatively close to us.
Juno is the second spacecraft designed under NASA’s New Frontiers Program and left Earth on August 8, 2011 for a journey to Jupiter. July 4, 2016 it finally entered Jupiter’s orbit and will now orbit the massive gas giant 37 times in a span of 20 months. Its mission: to collect data on the planetary core, map the magnetic field, and measure the amount of water and ammonia in the atmosphere.
That’s the gist of the mission, but here are some little known facts you may not already know.
Three worlds, potentially hospitable for life, have been discovered orbiting a dim, nearby star some 39 light-years away.
It is believed that the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way Galaxy, Sagittarius A, is 4 million solar masses. This is the the most massive object in our galaxy. Even so, it is dwarfed in comparison with the black hole located at the center of NGC 4889, a galaxy 308 million light-years away at the center of the Coma Cluster. This elliptical galaxy is one of the brightest and largest galaxies in the Coma Cluster, and even though it doesn’t display much activity, it contains a black hole with a mass 21 billion times that of our Sun.
Supernovae are some of the brightest events that happen in space. However, in recent decades scientists have discovered a rare new class of blasts known as superluminous supernovae (SLSNe), or “hypernovae” to some. The new discovery was spotted last June by the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN). At its peak, the new supernova known as ASAS-SN-15lh outshone our entire Milky Way galaxy by 50 times.
There is a star so close to its parent star that its heated atmosphere is expanding away into space. Some astronomers studying this distant planetary system now believe they have detected water vapor among the gases being liberated. Planet HD 209458b may be evaporating.
For the past several days there has been a lot of talk about this mysterious star located some 1,480 light-years away called KIC 8462852, located in the constellation Cygnus . This star appears to be flickering at irregular intervals. Some have gone so far as to hypothesize that the dimming is a sign of an advanced alien presence, suggesting the possible presence of advanced satellite orbits or a Dyson sphere. This has been a hot news story in the reaches of astronomy. But I waited to post anything about it, choosing not to jump on the train of speculation until further news came in.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has unveiled the stunning details of the Veil Nebula, the expanding remains of a massive star that exploded about 8,000 years ago.