Astronomers have spotted a giant 'blinking' star towards the centre of the Milky Way, more than 25,000 light-years away. An international team of astronomers observed the star, VVV-WIT-08, decreasing in brightness by a factor of 30 so that it nearly disappeared from the sky.
While many stars change in brightness because they pulsate or are eclipsed by another star in a binary system, it's exceptionally rare for a star to become fainter over a period of several months and then brighten again.
The researchers believe that VVV-WIT-08 may belong to a new class of 'blinking giant' binary star system, where a giant star -- 100 times larger than the Sun -- is eclipsed once every few decades by an as-yet-unseen orbital companion.
The companion, which may be another star or a planet, is surrounded by an opaque disc, which covers the giant star, causing it to disappear and reappear in the sky. The study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The discovery was led by Dr Leigh Smith from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, working with scientists at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Hertfordshire, the University of Warsaw in Poland and Universidad Andres Bello in Chile.
"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," said co-author Dr Sergey Koposov from the University of Edinburgh.
Project co-leader Professor Philip Lucas from the University of Hertfordshire said, "Occasionally we find variable stars that don't fit into any established category, which we call 'what-is-this?', or 'WIT' objects. We really don't know how these blinking giants came to be. It's exciting to see such discoveries from VVV after so many years planning and gathering the data."
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With inputs from ANI.