Juno arrived but Rosetta died: our top space stories of 2016

1216 roundup newhorizons

New Horizons delivers first data on post-Pluto object

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft started to send back information about an object in the Kuiper Belt that is orbiting the sun at more than five billion kilometres. The craft first imaged 1994 JR1 in November last year at a distance of 280 million kilometres. Then on 7-8 April, it took another look with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) from a distance of about 111 million kilometres. Read more

1216 roundup floatingplanet
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Bright, young Jupiter-like ‘orphan’ found floating nearby

A baby ‘orphan’ has been identified as one of the youngest and brightest planet-like masses in our solar neighbourhood. The object, named 2MASS J11193254−1137466 (henceforth 2MASS), is thought to be the second-brightest free-floating planetary object known to science, and a member of the youngest star group closest to the sun. Read more


Bizarre giant galaxy found in quiet corner of the universe

Scientists have been taken by surprise to discover that a galaxy they thought was tiny and conventional is, in fact, enormous and bizarre – and quite unlike anything they have seen before. At about 718,000 light-years across, UGC 1382 is more than seven times wider than the Milky Way – 10 times larger than was previously thought. But that isn’t the strange part. Whereas most galaxies have the oldest stars closer to the centre, this one is the reverse. Read more

1216 roundup blackhole

How massive can a supermassive black hole get?

There’s a limit to how big a supermassive black hole can become before it stunts it own growth, calculations suggest. Kohei Inayoshi and Zoltan Haiman from Columbia University in New York, US, modelled the evolution of a supermassive black hole over the lifetime of the universe – 13.8 billion years – and found once they get to around 10 billion times the mass of the sun, they top out. Read more

ESA / C. Carreau

Venus Express unveils surprising polar atmosphere

In one of its final experiments before it plunged to its death, the European Space Organisation’s Venus Express spacecraft coughed up a valuable piece of Venus’ puzzle: our neighbour’s polar atmosphere is much colder and thinner than we thought. Read more

1216 roundup planetnine
Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC)

Planet Nine takes shape

A mysterious planet in the far reaches of the solar system is probably 10 times as massive as Earth and aglow with infrared radiation, but has a frigid temperature of -226 ºC, a simulation suggests. Astrophysicists Esther Linder and Christoph Mordasini from Switzerland’s University of Bern modelled the likely structure of “Planet Nine”, a hypothesised but as-yet unfound planet in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Read more

1216 roundup alienmegastructure

Alien megastructure ‘discovery’: a review of the facts

Have we discovered alien intelligence? It’s the kind of story to make you giddy – like a kid who hears Santa Claus scrabbling on the roof. Two stories have recently toed the line between science and science fiction – but should we take them seriously? Here’s what you need to know. Read more

1216 roundup titan magicisland
NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI / Cornell

What’s behind Titan’s mysterious bright ‘magic island’?

Saturn’s largest moon Titan is a world of rocks, ice and vast hydrocarbon lakes … so why is a patch jutting out into a hydrocarbon lake growing and shrinking? Radar photos taken by the Cassini-Huygens mission, flying past the moon since 2004, shows the moon’s surface as a dynamic system. Read more


The many potential lives of ‘Earth-twin’ planet Proxima b

Back on Earth, NASA astrobiologists crunched all the available data on Proxima b to figure out how likely it is to host life. Read more

1216 roundup curiositty
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Curiosity’s view of life on Mars

It lugs around a formidable array of scientific instrumentation, but did you know NASA’s Curiosity rover also boasts 17 cameras? With seven on its mast, nine mounted on the body and one on the end of its arm – quite convenient for the odd selfie – Curiosity’s cameras have been busy snapping photos of the rover’s strange, other-worldly surrounds since August 2012. Read more

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