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Monday, June 14, 2021

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Something handed in entrance of a star in a distant half of the Milky Way — however astronomers aren’t positive what.

Amanda Smith/University of Cambridge

In 2012, a giant star some 25,000 light-years away blinked on the Earth, and we stared again, slightly confused.

Astronomers utilizing the VISTA telescope in Chile watched the star dramatically lower in brightness after which mild up once more over a interval of round 200 days. The group has a hunch that a big object, orbiting the giant star, obscured our view of it briefly — however the nature of the occulting object is unsure. They’ve dubbed the occasion VVV-WIT-08.

“It’s amazing that we just observed a dark, large and elongated object pass between us and the distant star and we can only speculate what its origin is,” mentioned Sergey Koposov, an astronomer on the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the brand new examine.

The examine, printed within the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, suggests a pair of potentialities, however the dip would not look like attributable to options inherent to the star itself — it should be a gravitationally sure companion. 

The occasion was found within the VISTA Variables within the Via Lactea survey (VVV). The WIT acronym that stands for “What is this?” and is used when astronomers aren’t clear on why these giant stars is likely to be blinking.

An animation of the mysterious object that handed in entrance of VVV-WIT-08?

Leigh Smith, Sergey Koposov

A quantity of WIT objects have been found earlier than, with a handful of explanations: violent quasars, star collisions and novas. The group state this one is sort of definitely an occultation occasion — one thing has handed in entrance of the star from our view within the universe — and it should be faint, with a thickness higher than 23 million miles (or about one-quarter of the space between the Earth and the solar).

They thought-about a quantity of totally different objects, ruling out an opportunity object wandering the cosmos simply passing in entrance of the star. It’s additionally unlikely large discs of particles round white dwarfs and neutron stars triggered the occultation, although the group say {that a} cloud of dusty, messy fuel and particles round a black gap — a “black hole fallback disc” — could also be responsible.

The group have additionally recognized two different candidate occasions, VVV-WIT-10 and VVV-WIT-11, suggesting there could also be extra of these “blinking giants” to find and describe.

“There are certainly more to be found, but the challenge now is in figuring out what the hidden companions are, and how they came to be surrounded by discs, despite orbiting so far from the giant star,” mentioned Leigh Smith, an astronomer at Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy and first creator of the examine.

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