Astronomers have spotted a mysteriously dusty object orbiting a distant star.
While the object is likely a binary star system, according to a study published in The Astronomical Journal, scientists are bewildered by the amount of dust it emits.
Unlike dusty comets, which are expected to decay quickly, the object remained intact while releasing a huge amount of material.
How was it discovered?
Images of the object were captured by NASA’s planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) who launched in 2018.
To date, TESS has discovered 172 planets outside our solar system and has compiled a list of over 4,700 candidates.
He also found over a billion objects that are placed in the TESS (TIC) Entry Catalog, which follow-up studies have identified as a range of astronomical objects and events.
Now, Dr. Karen Collins, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has discovered another TIC with the number 400799224.
Dr Collins found the object using machine learning tools applied to ICT data, which had previously revealed “stellar pulses, supernova shocks, decaying planets, self-lensing gravitational binary stars , triple eclipsing star systems, disk occultations, and more “.
Dr Collins and colleagues said the unusual TIC was spotted “by chance” when it rapidly dropped in brightness – by almost 25% in just a few hours.
So what is it?
Astronomers believe it to be a binary star system in which one of the stars vibrates with a period of 19.77 days, possibly caused by an orbiting body that periodically emits clouds of dust.
But the nature of the orbiting body is “confusing” due to the large amount of dust that is emitted.
If it came from a decaying object, like the asteroid Ceres in our own solar system, then it would only survive for about eight thousand years.
But in the six years that the object has been observed, the amount of dust and the evenness of its diffusion appear to have remained.
The team will continue to monitor the object and attempt to incorporate historical observations to determine its variations over the past decades.