Top 10 Recently Discovered Cosmic Phenomena

A Mysterious X-Ray Explosion

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The Chandra X-ray Observatory saw something weird while peering into the early universe. Chandra observed a puzzling X-ray source, 10.7 billion light-years away. It suddenly grew 1,000 times brighter and then faded to darkness in the course of about a day.

Astronomers have discovered similarly bizarre X-ray bursts before, but this one sticks out because it’s 100,000 times more luminous in the X-ray range. Preliminary culprits include gigantic supernovae, crashing neutron stars, or possibly white dwarfs.

But the evidence doesn’t point to any of those events. The galaxy that hosted the blast is much smaller and more distant than the previously observed sources, so astronomers hope they’ve found a “completely new type of cataclysmic event.”

A Most Precarious Orbit

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We imagine black holes destroying anything foolish enough to get near them, but objects can wander ridiculously close without getting cracked into trillions of bits.

The newly discovered white dwarf X9 is the closest orbiting body ever spied around a black hole. X9 is not even three times as far away from its black hole as the Moon is from Earth, so it completes its orbit in only 28 minutes. This means that a black hole is propelling a white dwarf around itself faster than the average pizza delivery.

It is 15,000ish-light-years away in the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae, part of the Tucana (toucan) constellation. Astronomers say X9 was likely a big red star before a black hole persuaded it to come close and then sucked its outer layers, an ongoing process that may leave behind a diamond-like body.

Galactic Dead Zone

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Cepheids are toddler stars only 10 million to 300 million years old. They pulsate, and their regular changes in brightness make them perfect cosmic mile markers.

Researchers have discovered them all over the Milky Way. But they weren’t sure what was going on, Cepheid-wise, near the galactic core, which is made nigh-invisible by huge globs of interstellar dust. Astronomers can cut through it by observing the core in the near-infrared, which revealed a surprisingly barren “desert” lacking any young stars.

A few Cepheids are snuggled up in the very center of the galaxy. But just outside this region, a great dead patch extends 8,000 light-years in all directions. This extreme inner patch has no new stars and has been eerily dormant for hundreds of millions of years.

An Unexpected Planetary Threesome

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Hot Jupiters don’t make any sense. They’re Jupiter-sized gas balls but way closer to their stars than they should be, turning in tighter orbits than even Mercury.

Scientists have been studying these odd beasts for the past 20 years and have logged about 300 of them. But they are always alone in their orbits. Then in 2015, University of Michigan researchers finally confirmed something that seemed impossible, a hot Jupiter with a companion.

And not just one, but two! The WASP-47 family includes the Sun-skirting hot Jupiter in question and two wildly different underlings, a larger Neptune-like body as well as a smaller, much denser, rocky super-Earth.

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