The universe is full of mysterious galaxies, systems and planets. While we have seen great success with the James Webb Space Telescope in exploring the early universe, space continues to baffle and amaze scientists on a daily basis. One recent surprise came from a rare eclipse that left a star shrouded in the dust of its companion for seven years.
Astronomers say the discovery is a wonderful stroke of good luck because the binary system that hosts the star has a very long orbital period. Therefore, capturing an observation of this rare stellar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The star is known as Gaia 17bpp, and according to astronomers Anastasios Tzanidakis and James Davenport, their attention was drawn to this system when the Gaia survey showed that the star was gradually brightening over a period of two and a half years. Analysis of the star showed that it had not changed. Instead, it has emerged from a rare eclipse caused by its companion star.
These new findings, along with data from Gaia, show that Gaia 17bpp has dimmed by about 4.5 magnitudes, about 63 times its average brightness. This state of the rare eclipsed star remained for nearly seven years from 2012 to 2019, and the time has come for it to brighten significantly in 2019. Astronomers say this brightening is due to the star finally coming out of an eclipse caused by dust around its companion star.
It’s an intriguing finding, Tzanidakis says, because no other stars around the binary system showed a similar dimming at that particular time. To study it further, the astronomers also looked at observations of the star from 66 years ago. However, they did not see changes similar to the rare stellar eclipses witnessed by instruments between 2012 and 2019.
Therefore, they believe that the dust of its companion obscured the star and nothing more, making it a rare encounter, but still one with logical implications behind it. Binary star systems are not the rarest of phenomena in the universe, but their discovery is still exciting. Some scientists believe that even our Sun once had a companion star.
Perhaps as we investigate this binary system more deeply, we will be able to learn more about the stars that call it home, and even more about the long orbital periods that make such rare eclipses possible.