Astronomers have spotted a mysterious object that spews dust into space

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An artistic representation of the TESS instrument in space.  The subject is a silver cylinder with plates extending on both sides.

Astronomers are looking over data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) we recently came across something strange: an object called TIC 400799224 fluctuated in brightness, like a star that routinely eclipses. Their analysis of observations suggests that TIC 400799224 are actually two stars, one of which orbits a mysterious object. Researchers suspect that a large asteroid or perhaps even a small planet is releasing clouds of dust that dampen starlight from TESS’s perspective.

Launched in 2018 TESS has the task of finding exoplanets – worlds outside our solar system – that pass in front of their host stars, causing visible drops in the star’s brightness. So far, TESS has discovered 172 exoplanets, and 4,703 exoplanet candidates are awaiting further analysis. These extraterrestrial worlds help planetary scientists understand the demographics of the universe and the diversity of the planets that exist.

A space dotted with stars with a particularly bright object in the center.

TIC 400799224 appears to be a stellar binary system or two stars orbiting each other. The stars are thought to be about 300 AJ away, according to the work, with 1 AJ being the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. The research team is still unsure which star contains the mysterious object that is causing the brightness to drop. Eclipse occurs eye every 19.77 days, but length, intensity, and shape from falls vary a lots of.

The The periodicity of the eclipse is what leads the team to believe it is caused by an object in orbit, although falls do not occur during every transit, so the team thinks the most likely culprit is a sporadically emitted cloud of dust. Their research is Published in The Astronomical Journal.

What makes TIC 400799224 particularly strange is that the suspicious dust clouds are larger than researchers would expect, assuming the clouds are the result of the object’s decay over time. As a center for astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian press release notes, slow decay is the cause of clouds of dust descending from Ceres, the dwarf planet in our solar system.

The rest suspiciously falling apart items were also found, so TIC 400799224 has some precedent. Researchers will continue to study the system and review historical records of brightness TIC 400799224, u he hopes for a better understanding of what is going on there.

More: Very large telescope images of the 42 largest asteroids in our solar system

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