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One Of The Brightest And Biggest Stars In The Galaxy Has Mysteriously Disappeared

by : Cameron Frew on : 30 Jun 2020 17:18
One Of The Brightest And Biggest Stars In The Galaxy Has Mysteriously DisappearedOne Of The Brightest And Biggest Stars In The Galaxy Has Mysteriously DisappearedESO/L. Calçada

Around 75 million light years away from Earth, a ‘monster star’ has vanished without a trace. 

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Shining 2.5 million times brighter than our sun, the late-stage blue variable star was located in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy in the constellation of Aquarius. While we can’t see individual stars from such a distance, scientists are able to pick up light signatures.

It had been thoroughly studied between 2001 and 2011, however when researchers decided to take another peek last year, it seemed to have disappeared into the void of the cosmos.

Experts turned to the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Very Large Telescope multiple times in 2019 to find traces of the star, to no avail. Andrew Allan, a Trinity College Dublin scientist and team leader on the study – published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Societysaid in a statement: ‘We were surprised to find out that the star had disappeared!’

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Jose Groh, also from Trinity College Dublin, added: ‘We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local universe going gently into the night.’

Astronomers have put forward two possible answers for what happened to the star. Firstly, it may have simply transformed into a less luminous version of itself, losing its brightness while also being obscured by galactic dust.

ESO Very Large TelescopeESO Very Large TelescopeESO/Y. Beletsky

However, the second theory is far more exciting: there’s a chance the star collapsed into a black hole without producing the supernova explosion one would expect. An ESO news release explains that this would be a ‘rare event… our current understanding of how massive stars die points to most of them ending their lives in a supernova’.

Allan added: ‘It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion. If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner.’

Kinman Dwarf StarKinman Dwarf StarESO/L. Calçada

Earlier findings indicated the Kinman Dwarf star had been enduring a ‘strong outburst period’ of busy activity in the lead-up to 2011. During this time, its rate of mass loss spiked and luminosity increased fairly dramatically, which may be connected to its disappearance last year.

In order to truly investigate what happened to the star, ESO will enlist the services of its Extremely Large Telescope, slotted to begin operations in 2025. At 39 metres, it’ll be the ‘the world’s biggest eye on the sky’, used to solve any number of ‘cosmic mysteries’ such as the case of the Kinman Dwarf.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Science, Aquarius, Astronomy, galaxy, Kinman Dwarf, Now, Space, Stars, Technology

Credits

European Southern Observatory and 2 others
  1. European Southern Observatory

    A Cosmic Mystery: ESO Telescope Captures the Disappearance of a Massive Star

  2. European Southern Observatory

    The possible disappearance of a massive star in the low metallicity galaxy PHL 293B

  3. European Southern Observatory/YouTube

    Zooming in to the Kinman Dwarf galaxy