Search This Blog

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Something strange is going on, 450 lightyears away......

How's my blogging?Leave some feedback, I get better at this, you get a better read!

Odd things happen all the time. It's not that odd.... you know what I mean. I do anyway:

If chimps can build weapons [1], sprites of lightening [2] can reach towards space, and some schools can try to teach creationism as on par with real science -  I see no reason to mince my words on that last point - there's a lot of room for weird in the universe.

Image above: A massive lightening sprite reaches towards space... Yes, it looks like a fifty kilomtre high red jellyfish, yes, it's made of electricity, and yes, it's real. Real science - werewolves and vampires look tame next to it. I'm just pointing this out before I get to the main post. Image courtesy of the University of Alaska. Fairbanks

But, that being understood, something very odd is happening around young, Sun-like, star four hundred and fifty light years from here..

This star rejoices in the name TYC 8241 2652. Like many young stars, it has a ring of warm dust around it -  discovered by infra red astronomy in 1983. That ring is likely a signature of planet growth going on, made from microscopic debris kicked up by two or more colliding protoplanets.

Over the last twenty five years, the ring has pretty much been steady. Not surprising: The ring fills the space around the star, out to the distance of the orbit of Mercury around our Sun. That's a lot of dust, uncountable trillions of tons of it. It would take something spectacular to move all of that to somewhere we couldn't see it, and something really spectacular to do so very fast -  and nothing really really spectacular seems to have happened.

No mega flares, nothing like that.

So it's a total mystery why all the dust has disappeared [3] between 2009 and 2010. And stayed gone ever since. The astronomers at the Gemini observatory [4], who've been trying to figure this out, thought their observations must be wrong.

Video above: A lot of stars have dust rings, like the one in this artists impression, which form into planets. Not vanish without a trace, just to annoy hard working astronomers..... Image courtesy of the University of Copenhagen/Lars Buchhave

"The dust disappearance at TYC 8241 2652 was so bizarre, and so quick, initially I figured that our observations must simply be in error in some strange way."  So said Ben Zuckerman of the University of California, who's been studying these kind of dust rings for twenty years. "It's as if you took a conventional picture of the planet Saturn today, and then came back two years later and found that its rings had disappeared."

The rings of Saturn weigh about 30,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons, and are made of billions of particles zooming all over the place. So moving them wouldn't be easy, or fast.

This ring of dust was a lot bigger.

So what happened? We don't know, which is brilliant: I love a mystery, they always make us re-think our assumptions and see the universe in a new light.

Watch this bizarrely clean stretch of space for more developments..... 

List of links:


No comments:

Post a Comment