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ScienceDaily (July 5, 2012) — Astronomers report a baffling discovery never seen before: An extraordinary amount of dust around a nearby star has mysteriously disappeared.
"It's like the classic magician's trick -- now you see it, now you don't," said Carl Melis, a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Diego and lead author of the research. "Only in this case, we're talking about enough dust to fill an inner solar system, and it really is gone!"
"It's as if the rings around Saturn had disappeared," said co-author Benjamin Zuckerman, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. "This is even more shocking because the dusty disc of rocky debris was bigger and much more massive than Saturn's rings. The disc around this star, if it were in our solar system, would have extended from the sun halfway out to Earth, near the orbit of Mercury."
The research on this cosmic vanishing act, which occurred around a star some 450 light years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Centaurus, appears July 5 in the journal Nature.
"A perplexing thing about this discovery is that we don't have a satisfactory explanation to address what happened around this star," said Melis, a former UCLA astronomy graduate student. "The disappearing act appears to be independent of the star itself, as there is no evidence to suggest that the star zapped the dust with some sort of mega-flare or any other violent event."
Melis describes the star, designated TYC 8241 2652, as a "young analog of our sun" that only a few years ago displayed all of the characteristics of "hosting a solar system in the making," before transforming completely. Now, very little of the warm, dusty material thought to originate from collisions of rocky planets is apparent.
Nothing like this has ever been seen in the many hundreds of stars that astronomers have studied for dust rings," Zuckerman said. "This disappearance is remarkably fast, even on a human time scale, much less an astronomical scale. The dust disappearance at TYC 8241 2652 was so bizarre and so quick, initially I figured that our observations must simply be wrong in some strange way."
Born about 10 million years ago, the TYC 8241 2652 1 system was chugging along just fine before 2009. Its so-called circumstellar disk glowed at the infrared wavelength of 10 microns, indicating it was warm and lay close to the star — in the same sort of region that, in our own sun’s neighborhood, gave rise to the terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The infrared data reveal that the dust was about 180 degrees Celsius and located as close to its star as Mercury is to the sun.
By January 2010, however, nearly all infrared light from the dusty disk had vanished. “We had never seen anything like this before,” said astronomer Carl Melis of the University of California, San Diego. “We were all scratching our heads and wondering what the hell did we do wrong?” But subsequent observations with both infrared satellites and ground-based telescopes confirmed the surprising discovery, he said: “The disk was gone.”
Melis and his colleagues report the mystery online Wednesday in Nature — but they don’t know what caused it.
“It’s very bizarre,” he said. “Nothing like this was ever predicted.” He said there’s no way something could eclipse the infrared-emitting disk for more than 2 years, because such an object would be immense. Furthermore, the star itself didn’t fade.
Melis speculates that an earlier collision between two objects — perhaps two boulders, two asteroids or even two planets — orbiting the star produced the dust grains that emitted the infrared light. Then, either the star’s light blew the dust out of the planetary system or the dust plunged into the star.
“It’s a really interesting mystery,” said astronomer Scott Kenyon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not affiliated with the discovery team. “The observations certainly seem correct. It’s sort of amazing to have the dust in one of these disks go away so quickly. It’s hard to know exactly what happened.”
Originally posted by ChaoticOrder
reply to post by SoymilkAlaska
Well that's the only plausible explanation I can think of... however, the article says they've come up with a few mechanisms by which that could happen but none of them are compelling.
I'm thinking it may have something to do with quantum mechanics... or something like that. It's a very unusual scenario but according to quantum mechanics that dust could spontaneously vanish.
Originally posted by jude11
Where does it reference Houdini?
I know. Not the main point but the reference points to instantaneous.
Originally posted by Qumulys
Its actually a little head-scratching this one! This is the only way I can think of, or a wandering black hole?? Who knows.
Originally posted by Atzil321
They seem to dismiss the idea of solar activity causing this, but then go on to say that they observed the star at 6 month intervals. What if there was huge solar activity taking place while the star was not under observation? An increased solar wind would disperse the lighter gas and dust leaving behind the heavier material 'which would become invisible to us'. Have they realy not thought of something as simple as this? It already follows what we know of solar system formation.
Love the idea of alien harvesters btw