Strange ‘blinking’ star near heart of Milky Way catches scientists’ eyes

It’s at all times a great signal when astronomers are blunt about how observations have puzzled them.

One such complicated object, found by a mission known as the VISTA Variables within the Via Lactea survey, or VVV, seems to be simply the second of its variety identified to scientists — and a form that seems to be significantly dramatic, in keeping with new analysis. That’s the conclusion of a crew of scientists who noticed a vibrant star that almost disappeared earlier than their very eyes.

“Occasionally we find variable stars that don’t fit into any established category, which we call ‘what-is-this?’, or ‘WIT’ objects,” co-author Philip Lucas, an astronomer on the University of Hertfordshire within the U.Okay., said in a statement. “We really don’t know how these blinking giants came to be. It’s exciting to see such discoveries from VVV after so many years planning and gathering the data.”

Related: The brightest stars in the sky: A starry countdown

The crew of astronomers targeted on observations of an object dubbed VVV-WIT-08 for the survey that found it. The unusual sight is greater than 25,000 light-years away from Earth within the route of the middle of the Milky Way, and the researchers have been in a position to see them with not simply the VVV mission, but in addition the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE).

Having dug into the measurements, scientists now suspect that the thing is one large star, 100 occasions bigger than the sun, that’s periodically blocked by a smaller companion object surrounded by an opaque disk.

What exactly that smaller object is, scientists do not know but.

“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,” co-author Sergey Koposov, an astronomer on the University of Edinburgh within the U.Okay., stated in an announcement.

The VVV-WIT-08 observations mark the second time that scientists have seen this explicit sample; the brightness of a large star generally known as Epsilon Aurigae halves each 27 years when a mud cloud passes between observers and the star. Another instance dims each 69 years, and the researchers who studied VVV-WIT-08 have to this point discovered two extra of these unusual objects, which they’ve dubbed “blinking giant” stars.

That brings the entire of such noticed objects to 5, though scientists count on there are others to be detected.

“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,” lead creator Leigh Smith, an astronomer at Cambridge University within the U.Okay., stated within the assertion. “In doing so, we might learn something new about how these kinds of systems evolve.”

The analysis is described in a paper revealed Friday (June 11) within the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or observe her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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