From our tiny blue dot, the universe appears inconceivably vast. In the grand cosmic scheme of things, all the light in the observable universe provides about as much illumination as a 60-watt bulb seen from 2.5 miles away, says Marco Ajello, an astrophysicist at Clemson University, who led a team in 2018 that has measured all of the starlight ever produced throughout the history of the observable universe.
The closest stars to the Earth are also some of the best studied celestial objects. In Astrophysics, distance makes all the difference. The closer an object is, the more light we will be able to glean from it. Stars come in different types (masses, chemical compositions, ages), but the closest example of each type will be a critical object to study. In this article we review five fast facts about the closest systems to the Earth and what they mean for astrophysical studies.
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In 2018, a long-hidden and especially tumultuous chapter in the Milky Way’s history was revealed: a smash-up between the young Galaxy and a colossal companion that once orbited the Milky Way like a planet around a star. “The two collided, massively altering the Galactic disk and scattering stars far and wide,” reported Nature about data captured by the Gaia Spacecraft that radically transformed how we see the evolution of our Galaxy. “It is the last-known major crash the Galaxy experienced before it assumed the familiar spiral shape seen today.”
Planets beyond our own solar system were once thought to be out of the reach of humans. The idea that we could detect worlds beyond our own or even that worlds beyond on our own might be there was questioned. But once the first few worlds were found, the flood gates were opened and the zoo of exoplanets started to reveal itself. While there is much to say about the plethora of planets we now know exist around other stars, this article will give four general fast facts about our current exoplanet understanding.
A new view of star formation in our home galaxy has revealed some previously hidden secrets. Astronomers using two of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes have made a detailed and sensitive survey of a large segment of the Milky Way, detecting previously unseen tracers of massive star formation, a process that dominates galactic ecosystems and solving the mystery of the galaxy’s missing supernova remnants.
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