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Scientists baffled as three stars vanished from the night sky and nobody knows what happened

Poppy Bilderbeck

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| Last updated 

Scientists baffled as three stars vanished from the night sky and nobody knows what happened

Featured Image Credit: Getty/Palomar Observatory/Solano, et al

Scientists still can't find a trio of stars that disappeared 'within 50 minutes'.

Palomar Observatory took multiple images of the same area of the night sky on 19 July, 1952 as part of a photographic survey.

The team then took a photograph at around 8:52pm and once more at 9:45pm.

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But they quickly realised a stark difference between the two images - there were three stars missing.

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Stars don't just vanish with no explanation, so scientists launched into an investigation to figure out what may've happened to them to disappear so quickly.

One theory was that the trio of stars weren't three stars at all, but one star which had went through a fast radio burst from a magnetar, Universe Today reports.

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"A magnetar is an exotic type of neutron star, its defining feature that it has an ultra-powerful magnetic field," Earth Sky says.

Adding: "Apart from these ultra-powerful magnetic fields, magnetars also release vast amounts of energy in the form of flares, X-rays, and gamma-ray bursts.

"They are therefore associated with extreme events in the universe, making them perhaps the most bizarre objects in the cosmos next to black holes."

Or indeed, perhaps a black hole passed between the singular star and earth, altering the camera lens' perception of the star, making it seem like there were three.

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What scientists believe to be three stars vanished in the space of an hour in 1952. Credit: Palomar Observatory/Solano, et al
What scientists believe to be three stars vanished in the space of an hour in 1952. Credit: Palomar Observatory/Solano, et al

The second theory is the three 'stars' aren't actually stars at all and are some type of objects - not spotted since the first image was taken at 8:52pm because they've moved to a different place in their orbit.

And the third theory?

Well, they say a good workman never blames his tools, but researchers have pointed out the observatory where the images were taken is close to a nuclear weapons testing site in the New Mexico desert, and so radioactive dust may've found its way onto some of the equipment.

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According to Universe Today, other photographic plates of the 1950s showed 'similar vanishings', so maybe the explanation is really that simple after all.

Scientists are still baffled. Palomar Observatory/Solano, et al
Scientists are still baffled. Palomar Observatory/Solano, et al

Well, with scientists never ones to give up on a challenge, a team of researchers from Cornell University looked into the same area of sky to see if the stars had returned.

In a paper titled A bright triple transient that vanished within 50 minutes, Solano et al. submitted on 13 October, 2023, the team looks into the three 'optically bright, -15th magnitude, point-sources within 10arcsec of each other that vanished within one hour'.

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The paper further explains: "We obtained two deep exposures with the 10.4-m Gran Telescopio Canarias on 25 and 27 April 2023 in r and g-band, both reaching magnitude 25.5 (3-sigma).

"The three point-sources are still absent, implying they have dimmed by more than 10 magnitudes within an hour."

The team also noted the trio of stars has 'similar' properties to other cases where groups of transients have appeared and vanished.

However, ultimately, they still don't know why the stars have disappeared and the 'previously reported cases remain unclear'.

Ah well, better luck next time guys.

Topics: Technology, Science, Space, International Space Station, SpaceX, World News

Poppy Bilderbeck
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