Astronomers have been treated to a rare sighting of a star undergoing a massive growth spurt, when the star brightens as matter falls in on it, in a phenomenon known as an “outburst.”
According to scientists, this kind of event has only been observed a dozen times, and it’s the first time scientists have seen it in both optical and infrared light.
According to NASA, an outburst occurs when a disc of matter that was swirling around the star fell in to its surface, causing the star to appear roughly 100 times brighter.
The star, known as Gaia 17bpi, was first discovered by the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, and that same satellite detected the change in the star’s visible brightness indicating the outburst. At the same time, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite also detected a change in infrared light.
While it’s believed that all stars go through these kinds of outbursts during their lifetime, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) say it’s incredibly rare to catch the star in the act, usually because the outburst is hidden behind clouds of dust.
“These… events are extremely important in our current understanding of the process of star formation but have remained almost mythical because they have been so difficult to observe,” said Lynne Hillenbrand, professor of astronomy at Caltech and lead author of a report on the discovery.
“This is actually the first time we’ve ever seen one of these events as it happens in both optical and infrared light, and these data have let us map the movement of material through the disk and onto the star.”
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