A Massive Star Vanishes Out of Sight

By: Alina Dang

A star 75 million light-years away suddenly vanished last year. The star is a massive, glowing bright crystal blue that shines a million times more luminous than the sun.

Taking on the challenge, Andrew Allen, an astrophysics student, is one of these astronomers studying the mysterious star. At first, Allen assumed that the missing star was an accident caused by bad weather. However, months later, they decided to reexamine to find the missing star at a different observatory. The star was still nowhere to be found.

Stars at that size don’t usually vanish without a trace. Oftentimes, they finish their lifespan by transforming into a supernova and leave behind a black hole. Allen theorized that the star skipped the supernova stage and collapsed into a black hole. “If indeed the star turned into a black hole with no supernova at all, then it’s a case of ‘gone without a bang’ that astronomers have been searching for for a while now,” said astronomer Iair Arcavi.

Although this sounds like the first case, the disappearance of a star has happened in the past. A similar situation occurred in 2009 causing researchers to scramble for potential possibilities. The first explanation is related to how luminous blue stars act. These types of stars, in particular, have dramatic shifts in brightness. The star could have dimmed after an exceptionally bright period. Astronomers predict it could’ve been “a quirk of timing, a cloud of cosmic dust might have moved right in front of the star at about the same time, blocking its already-subdued shine so that the star became completely hidden from our view.” The second explanation suggests that the star is not a star in the first place. Instead, the star could have possibly been a supernova’s bright light.

Astronomers are trying to clear up this mystery by sending the Hubble space telescope to catch a closer view. For now, astronomers are still puzzled by the star’s disappearance. Only future observations can shed light on the mystery of the missing star.

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/07/disappearing-star-supernova-galaxy/613699/

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