No constellation prize — Irish scientists ponder mystery of missing star

An artist’s impression of the disappearing star.

It may be the largest disappearing act in recorded history, and astrophysicists at Trinity College Dublin are trying to solve the cosmic mystery in a galaxy far, far away — where did the star 2.5 million times brighter than our sun go?

Professor Jose Groh’s team of astronomers at TCD discovered with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) that a mysterious massive star, located in the Kinman dwarf galaxy, has gone missing.

Between 2001 and 2011, various teams of astronomers studied the mysterious massive star. All indications suggested that it was in a late stage of its evolution. 

Then it disappeared.

Cosmic detectives believe the star either became less bright and partially obscured by dust, or that it collapsed into a black hole without producing a supernova.

PhD student in astrophysics in Trinity’s School of Physics, Andrew Allan, is project leader on the team.

He said: "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner. It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion.”

The star is -- or was, as the case may be -- 75 million light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius. The Kinman dwarf galaxy is too far away for astronomers to see its individual stars, but they can detect the signatures of some of them, the team said.

From 2001 to 2011, the light from the galaxy consistently showed evidence that it hosted a so-called 'luminous blue variable' star some 2.5 million times brighter than the Sun.

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.

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