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Popular Science

MIT astronomers have found a new way to measure how fast a black hole spins, observing the aftermath of a black hole tidal disruption event with a telescope aboard the International Space Station, reports Laura Baisas for Popular Science. “The only way you can do this is, as soon as a tidal disruption event goes off, you need to get a telescope to look at this object continuously, for a very long time, so you can probe all kinds of timescales, from minutes to months,” said Research Scientist Dheeraj Pasham.


 

Gizmodo

Astronomers at MIT and elsewhere have determined how to measure the spin of a nearby supermassive black hole using a new calculation method, reports Isaac Schultz for Gizmodo. The team “managed to deduce a supermassive black hole’s spin by measuring the wobble of its accretion disk after a star has been disrupted—a polite word for torn up—by the gigantic object,” explains Schultz. “They found the black hole’s spin was less than 25% the speed of light—slow, at least for a black hole.” 

CNN

MIT astronomers have discovered an exoplanet that is 50% bigger than Jupiter, but still the second lightest planet ever found, with a density similar to cotton candy,” reports Leash Asmelash for CNN. The planet could provide a useful window into how puffy planets form. “The bigger a planet’s atmosphere, the more light can go through,” Prof. Julien de Wit explains. “So it’s clear that this planet is one of the best targets we have for studying atmospheric effects. It will be a Rosetta Stone to try and resolve the mystery of puffy Jupiters.”

Mashable

Researchers at MIT have discovered “three of the oldest stars in the universe lurking right outside the Milky Way,” reports Elisha Sauers for Mashable. “These little stars are nearly 13 billion years old, and they haven't changed one bit since," says Prof. Anna Frebel. "The stars will continue to exist for about another 3 to 5 billion years or so."

Newsweek

MIT researchers have discovered three of the oldest stars in our universe among the stars that surround “the distant edge of our Milky Way galaxy,” reports Jess Thompson for Newsweek. “These stars, dubbed SASS (Small Accreted Stellar System stars), are suspected to have been born when the very first galaxies in the universe were forming, with each belonging to its own small primordial galaxy,” explains Thompson. 

USA Today

Researchers from MIT and elsewhere have discovered a celestial body, which has been called “the second lightest planet ever discovered,” reports Eric Lagatta for USA Today. “The star-orbiting exoplanet outside of our solar system is about seven times less massive than Jupiter, which is why astronomers compare its low density to cotton candy,” Lagatta explains. 

The Guardian

Researchers at MIT and elsewhere have uncovered a new “earth-sized planet orbiting a small, cool star that is expected to shine for 100 times longer than the sun,” reports Ian Sample for The Guardian. The planet is “55 light years from Earth and was detected as it passed in front of its host star, an ultra-cool red dwarf that is half as hot as the sun and 100 times less luminous,” writes Sample. 

Newsweek

MIT astronomers have discovered an exoplanet with a density similar to cotton candy, reports Newsweek’s Jess Thomson. The planet, “named WASP-193b, is the second-least dense exoplanet ever found, with a density of around 0.059 grams per cubic centimeter, or 3.68 pounds per cubic foot,” Thomson explains. “This makes it about 7 times less dense than our neighboring planet Jupiter, despite being 50 percent larger in size, and about 1 percent the density of our own planet.”

Gizmodo

Prof. Anna Frebel and her colleagues have identified some of the oldest stars in our universe, located in the Milky Way’s halo, a discovery that stemmed from Frebel’s new course, 8.S30 (Observational Stellar Archaeology), reports Isaac Schultz for Gizmodo. “Studying the ancient stars won’t only help explain the timeline of stellar evolution, but also how our galaxy actually formed,” Schultz explains.

Associated Press

An international team of astronomers, including scientists from MIT, discovered an exoplanet with an “exceedingly low density for its size,” reports Marcia Dunn for the Associated Press. The planet “is ideal for studying unconventional planetary formation and evolution,” explains Dunn. 

Space.com

MIT researchers have “discovered hitherto unknown space molecule while investigating a relatively nearby region of intense star birth,” reports Robert Lea for Space.com. This discovery “revealed the presence of a complex molecule known as 2-methoxyethanol, which had never been seen before in the natural world, though its properties had been simulated in labs on Earth,” writes Lea.

Quanta Magazine

Prof. Erin Kara speaks with Quanta Magazine reporter Michael Greshko about her career as an observational astrophysicist and her work to better understand how black holes behave and reshape galaxies across the universe. “The thing that really got me excited about pursuing astronomy was the discovery aspect: It was just super thrilling to be the first person to look at light that was released from around a black hole a billion years ago,” says Kara.

The Boston Globe

Researchers at MIT have discovered 18 supermassive black holes that “are tearing apart nearby stars in ‘oddball’ tidal disruption events,” reports Ava Berger for The Boston Globe. Graduate student Megan Masterson says, “the events are powerful tools to understand the most extreme parts of our universe. They happen about once every 50,000 years, and help scientists learn more about the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and black holes in general.”

Newsweek

MIT researchers have discovered that “stars at the edge of our home galaxy appear to be moving more slowly than expected,” reports Jess Thomson. This discovery “implies that the galaxy itself may be structured differently from how scientists first thought, with the core of the Milky Way possibly containing less dark matter and, therefore, being lighter in mass than first assumed,” explains Thomson.

Forbes

Forbes contributor Jamie Carter spotlights a new study co-authored by MIT scientists that suggests, “the absence of carbon dioxide in a rocky planet’s atmosphere—relative to others in the same star system—may indicate the presence of liquid water on the planet’s surface.”