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Something shone in the heart of the Milky Way

An international group of astronomers has found a twinkling giant star 100 times the mass of the Sun at the center of the Milk System.

According to their telescopic observations, the light of a massive star 25,000 light-years away will fade by 97% within a few hundred days and then slowly return to its original brightness.

The unexpected and dramatic dimming is likely caused by an orbiting planet or a companion star surrounded by an opaque dust disk passing in front of the giant star, preventing its light from reaching Earth, according to the British Guardian daily.

The giant star “suddenly appeared from somewhere”, said Lee Smith, a researcher at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, from the suddenly fading star. It began to fade in early 2012 and by April of the year it had almost completely disappeared, and after a hundred days its light appeared again.

Data collected using binoculars from the European Southern Observatory in Chile revealed the mysterious star in astronomers.

When scientists find a variable star that does not fit into any accepted category, it is called a WIT – what is this – an object. Their new discovery was named VVV-WIT-09. Because the giant star is located in a very dense region of the galaxy, the researchers thought there might be an unknown dark object that might be wandering in front of it. According to simulations, this is very unlikely, it is likely that the VVV-WIT-08 image is obscured from the telescope by a dust disk of a planet orbiting another planet or star.

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Their calculations, published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, indicate that the disk is tilted, making it appear elliptical from Earth, and may be massive, with a radius of at least a quarter of the distance between Earth and the Sun.

Artistic illustration of a starSource: Amanda Smith / University of Cambridge

This isn’t the first twinkling star discovered by astronomers. A massive dust disk fades the giant star Epsilon Origai by about 50 percent every 27 years. Another star, TYC 2505-672-1, is part of a double system whose surrounding disk fades every 69 years.

Not knowing when VVV-WIT-08 will fade again, astronomers believe it’s sometime in the next 20-200 years. Two other twinkling stars have been discovered nearby, but researchers have little data about them.