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Black hole in the heart of galaxy RX J1242-11.
Dr. Hayley Bignall, an Astronomer from the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Europe (JIVE), believes that interstellar clouds of gas and dust can serve as a natural lens to magnify distant objects better than any human-built telescope. Every galaxy, including our own Milky Way has a cloud of particles around it, which naturally clump together by gravity. Radiation from a distant object passing through these clouds (light, radio waves, etc) can be focused to reveal details.
The latest image released from the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft is of Kasei Vallis; one of the largest outflow channels on Mars. The image was taken using the spacecraft's High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) while it was cruising above the planet at an altitude of 272 km. It's believed that the outflow channel was carved by glaciers, or the bursting of subterranean lakes which were dammed by glaciers. Operators had a difficult time building a true-colour image from this photograph because of all the dust and haze in the atmosphere at the time.
Construction of the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory is well underway, and engineers recently completed a significant part of what will become the largest mirror on a space telescope. The 3.5 metre primary mirror was built from silicon carbide, which reduces its mass by a factor of 5 from using traditional materials. The mirror will next be machined to reduce its mass even more and then coated with a reflective surface. Herschel is due to launch in February 2007, and will cover the far infrared and sub-millimetre waveband.
Astronomers have spotted a supermassive black hole in the heart of Galaxy RX J1242-11 in the process of tearing a star apart and consuming it. The event was originally discovered by the German Roentgen satellite, which indicated an X-ray burst with more energy than a supernova at the centre of the galaxy. Astronomers focused in with NASA's Chandra and the ESA's XMM-Newton X-Ray Observatories, and watched this long-theorized process unfold. It's believed that the star was thrown off course by interactions with another star so that it ended up near the clutches of the supermassive black hole. It was stretched by the enormous tidal forces until it was torn apart, releasing a tremendous amount of energy.
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