The Universe has no shortage of mysterious objects. Lately, astronomers have detected a mass that could hide light from its star by up to 75%. The first explanation that comes to mind when faced with this observation is that it is a planet or an asteroid. But according to scientists, neither of these two hypotheses can explain the phenomenon since the blocking of the luminosity by the object is at the same time more erratic and more persistent.
The object, referred to as TIC 400799224, appears to be ejecting a large amount of dust, and that’s the only thing astronomers can say at the moment. It was detected in orbit around a star system about 2,300 light years from Earth. It was by analyzing the data collected by TESS or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite that the researchers spotted it by chance. At the time of the discovery, it was the fact that the object caused a sudden drop in brightness of about 25% over a period of a few hours that caught the researchers’ attention. This drop was then followed by variations in brightness that could be interpreted as an eclipse.
According to reports, what TESS detected could have been signs of a disintegrating planet or an orbiting object that is shattered and releasing dust. However, looking at the data obtained over six years, the scientists sensed that something was wrong.
The first thing that is not usual with TIC 400799224 is that it does not orbit a single star system. A more in-depth analysis indeed showed that the object revolved around a binary system. One of the stars in this system pulses with a period of 19.77 days.
As for the object that affects the brightness, it seems to be irregular in terms of shape, depth or even duration. Astronomers suggest that the variations are likely caused by an object that periodically emits clouds of dust, without being sure. According to the explanations given by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, if the dust were produced by an object in the process of disintegrating, it would survive only for about 8000 years before disappearing. However, during the six years of observation, the periodicity remained strict and the object apparently remained intact.
Regarding the brightness
When TIC 400799224 was discovered, it blocked 25% of the light emitted by the system. Researchers don’t really know which of the two stars the object orbiting. But if we consider one or the other star as being the host, the object manages to block up to 37% or 75% of the emitted light.
After doing some calculations, the astronomers concluded that the data better matched the fact that one of the stars is pre-main sequence. This means that the star in question is still collecting matter from its envelope of dust and gas.
The researchers also speculated about the dust detected. First of all, this dust could have been caused by the disintegration of an object that goes directly from a solid state to a gas state. Then there is also the hypothesis of collisions with an object similar to a small planet which produce sporadic dust clouds. Finally, there is the hypothesis of dust carried by a planet lying in the star’s disk.
For astronomers, the second hypothesis is more likely. It could explain the regular periodicity of the dust cloud, as well as the variations in terms of depth. In any case, observations continue to learn more about this mystery.