Mystery as massive star ‘vanishes’ without a trace

03 Juillet, 2020, 09:55 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • What the luminous blue variable star in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy could have looked like before its mysterious disappearance

Astrophysicist Andrew Allan said: "If true, his would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner".

Scientists have also come up with an alternate theory for the disappearance. Of these, one twist ending stands out: Perhaps, the researchers wrote, the massive star died and collapsed into a black hole without undergoing a supernova explosion first - a truly "unprecedented" act of stellar suicide.

Astronomers have been left baffled as a monster star disappeared mysteriously from the middle of Kinman Dwarf, a galaxy that has been under our telescopes for a while.

Allan and his colleagues in the United States, Ireland, and Chile wanted to learn more about the way extremely giant stars disintegrate into oblivion, and about the object detected in the Kinman Dwarf that appeared to be the flawless target. In 2019, Allan and colleagues hoped to use the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope to learn more about the distant LBV's mysterious evolution, only to discover that the star had seemingly completely vanished from its host galaxy.

A team of Trinity College Dublin researchers has reported the disappearance of an unstable, massive star in deep space.

The star, which was found to be no longer visible, was extensively studied between 2001 and 2011.

The Kinman Dwarf galaxy is located about 75 million light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius.

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We don't now have the technology to observe individual stars at this distance but scientists used to be able to pick up light signatures for the luminous blue variable star in question.

Even with those shifts, luminous blue variables leave specific traces scientists can identify, but they were absent from the data the team collected in 2019, leaving them to wonder what had happened to the star.

"We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local universe going gently into the night", Jose Groh, an astronomer at Trinity College Dublin and a co-author of a new paper on the star, said in a statement. This led the scientists to believe that instead of producing a powerful explosion, the star may have completely collapsed and immediately turned into a black hole. It then brought into action highly capable spectrographs such as the Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO) and the X-Shooter, which also failed to find the star.

"Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-metre telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO as a member state in 2018". The comparison with the new observations was eye-opening. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research.

The outbursts may have resulted in the luminous blue variable being transformed into a less luminous star, which could also be partly hidden by dust.

Prof Groh added: "We will likely need to wait a few years before confirming what fate befell this particular star". Such an event would be rare: the present interpretation of how giant stars disintegrate indicates that a majority of them end their lives in a supernova. With plans to initiate operations in 2025, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) of the ESO will be able to resolve stars in remote galaxies like the Kinman Dwarf, aiding to resolve cosmic enigmas like this one.

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