A group of astronomers has detected the disappearance of a star inside of dwarf galaxy Kinman, an unusual phenomenon captured thanks to the long-range telescope (VTL) of the Southern European Observatory (THAT).
Scientists from this research institute, based in Garching (Germany), studied this massive star, which is 75 million light years from Earth, from 2001 to 2011, concluding that it was in its last stage of life.
In 2019 they again observed the Aquarius constellation, to which this star belongs, but did not detect any trace of it in the dwarf galaxy Kinman, which used to house it.
Image, captured by the Hubble telescope, of the Kinman dwarf galaxy. Photo: NASA, ESA / Hubble, J. Andrews (U. Arizona)
One explanation, astronomers have clarified, is that its brightness has decreased and has been hidden by cosmic dust, although there is an alternative possibility that attracts scientists more: the star could have collapsed in a black hole without becoming supernova.
If so, according to the head of the investigation, Andrew Allan, he would be “facing the first detection of a massive star of this type that ends its life in this way.”
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According to the studies that exist so far on the last stages of the life of the stars, a body of this size normally derives in a supernova, a stellar explosion that scientists could have picked up without too much trouble.
The red circle marks the location where the star was found within the constellation Aquarius. Image: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope
After that, the star’s debris would generally form a smaller neutron star or black hole, the state the observed star could be in after it had completely skipped the supernova stage.
For the astronomers who published the study of this case on Tuesday, this situation would be “extremely unusual”, although certainly more interesting than the alternative explanation that its brightness has simply decreased and is impossible to detect with current tools.
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However, they explained that the improvement in technology will allow them in the future, thanks to the new ESO telescope that will be put into operation in 2025, to solve the mysteries that this star and other celestial bodies have left for science.