Astronomers have discovered what they call a giant “blinking” star towards the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The star is called VVV-WIT-08, and it’s 25,000 light-years away from Earth. The mysterious star was observed in the sky as it decreased in brightness by a factor of 30, making it almost disappear from the sky.
Astronomers say that it’s not uncommon for stars to change in brightness as they pulsate or are eclipsed by another star in a binary system. It is extremely rare for stars to become fainter over several months and then brighten again. Astronomers believe VVV-WIT-08 could belong to a new class of “blinking giant” binary star system where a giant star that’s around 100 times larger than the sun is eclipsed once every few decades by an unseen orbital companion.
The companion orbiting the star could be another star or possibly a planet surrounded by an opaque disk that covers the giant star causing it to disappear and reappear in the sky. Study co-author Dr. Sergey Koposov said that it’s incredible that we observed a dark, large, and elongated object passed between us and the distant star. For now, all scientists can do is speculate on what the object passing between us and the star might be.
VVV-WIT-08 is located in a dense region of the Milky Way, and researchers have considered if some unknown dark object could possibly have drifted in front of the star by chance. Simulations show that there would have to be an impossibly large number of dark bodies floating around the galaxy for that scenario to be likely.
Astronomers on the team based in the UK have found two more strange giant stars in addition to VVV-WIT-08. The findings suggest this could be a new class of “blinking giant” stars requiring investigation by astronomers. VVV-WIT-08 was discovered by the VISTA telescope in Chile.