February 10, 2016
According to new research, young stars may gain mass by consuming dense clumps of matter that may themselves have gone on to evolve into giant planets. The clumps are believed to be devoured by a star periodically, with intervals of several thousand years between "meals." During periods of brightness following the consumption of one of the cosmic clumps, astronomers estimate that a star could burn up the equivalent of the Earth's mass once every 10 days.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has succeeded in imaging star formation regions in a distant galaxy, with a resolution six times greater than that achievable by the Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxy, dubbed HATLAS J090311.6+003906 or SDP.81, would ordinarily be far too distant to be observed in such impressive detail. However, thanks to an amazing cosmic coincidence, it has fallen foul of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, which essentially grants astronomers the opportunity to gaze into the distant past.