noaoann10002 — Announcement
Centuries-Old Star Mystery Coming to a Close
5 January 2010
For almost two centuries, humans have looked up at a bright star called Epsilon Aurigae and watched with their own eyes as it seemed to disappear into the night sky, slowly fading before coming back to life again. Today, as another dimming of the system is underway, mysteries about the star persist. Though astronomers know that Epsilon Aurigae is eclipsed by a dark companion object every 27 years, the nature of both the star and object has remained unclear.
Now, new observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope — in combination with archived ultraviolet, visible and other infrared data — point to one of two competing theories, and a likely solution to this age-old puzzle. One theory holds that the bright star is a massive supergiant, periodically eclipsed by two tight-knit stars inside a swirling, dusty disk. The second theory holds that the bright star is in fact a dying star with a lot less mass, periodically eclipsed by just a single star inside a disk. The Spitzer data strongly support the latter scenario. NOAO Astronomer Steve Howell contributed to this discovery.