Mysterious huge opaque something extinguishes giant star, puzzling astronomers

Something huge and opaque dimmed a star 100 times larger than our sun by 97%, confused astronomers say.

A new study released earlier this month has revealed the mystery that is puzzling experts from around the globe.

The evolved giant star, named VVV-WIT-08, was dimmed by 97% over a period of around 200 days — and no one can figure out why.

In the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society published June 11, 2021, scientists say that "something" has caused the extreme dimming of the star.

What that "something" may be has not yet been figured out but the new paper describes it as having had a “hard edge” and being completely opaque.

Leigh Smith of the University of Cambridge and lead author of the journal told The Guardian on June 11: "It appeared to come out of nowhere."

Talking to National Geographic six days later, he added:" It’s unusual for a star to dim in brightness by this much and for this long."

Sergey Koposov of the University of Edinburgh and another team member said: "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."

A similar situation happened on a smaller scale back in 2015 with Tabby's Star – a star which citizen scientists discovered was dimming rapidly and in strange ways.

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Multiple theories to the dimming was thrown around, from space debris getting in the way to huge alien aircrafts blocking the star's path.

The Tabby's Star mystery has not yet been fully solved, but most scientists have come to the conclusion that large clouds of dust is the cause.

Astronomers are hesitant to say dust is the cause of this new dimming star due to its larger scale – the largest dips in the brightness of Tabby's Star reached only 22% while VVV-WIT-08 reached a brightness dip of 97%.

Speaking to National Geographic, Levesque toyed with the theory that it could be dust, saying: "It’s nicely not too bizarre; it’s the sort of thing that you would expect.

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"But dust does not look this neat, and it would certainly imply something very unusual about how that dust is distributed."

Theories have been flying around astronomer's minds about what the large, hard-edged opaque "something" could be.

One theory the journal describes is the possibility of a black hole, a section reads: "We considered a number of possible astrophysical objects as candidates for the occulter.

"Debris disks around main sequence stars are too optically thin. While white dwarf debris disks are optically thick, they are too small.

"Accretion disks around black holes and neutron stars usually emit X-rays, but a black hole fallback disk of the type described by Perna et al. (2014) might plausibly explain the occultation."

Another theory suggests a giant ring system similar to Saturn could be the cause of the dimming.

Astronomer Jason Wright of Pennsylvania State University told National Geographic that Saturn’s rings have well-defined edge.

The new study has raised more questions than answers for astronomers and they continue to be puzzled on what could be darkening a star 100 times bigger than our sun.

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