Scientists baffled by ‘unique object of uncertain nature’ orbiting a star

This image of space around TIC 400799224 with crosshairs indicating the location of the dusty UFO.

Powell et al., 2021

“What in the universe is this?” This question prompted many scientific inquiries. When it comes to a “dusty UFO” detected in observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Reconnaissance satellite, the question remains open.

Astronomers are investigating an unusual occurrence around a binary star system called TIC 400799224, part of the TESS Input Catalog that records objects seen by NASA’s search for exoplanets. While TESS has confirmed more than 170 exoplanets, many others have also been seen, including TIC 400799224.

In a statement last week, the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) said TIC 400799224 stood out during computer analysis of the TESS data due to “a rapid decrease in brightness, by approximately 25% within a few hours, followed by several sharp differences in brightness each of which can be explained.” as an eclipse.”

TESS searches for exoplanets by looking for telltale drops in brightness when a planet moves in front of a star. It takes work to make sure there’s an exoplanet, and sometimes those dips in brightness indicate other things are going on.

The astronomers dug into previous observations of TIC 400799224 and found it likely to be a binary star system, like Tatooine in Star Wars. A star pulses regularly, which may be caused by an object orbiting it emitting dust that appears to dim the star. Dust clouds are irregular in size, shape and duration.

“The nature of the orbiting object is puzzling because the amount of dust emitted is large; if it resulted from the disintegration of an object like the asteroid Ceres in our solar system, it would only survive about 8,000 years before disappearing,” CfA said. Analysis of six years of data on TIC 400799224 indicates that the organism is intact despite its strange fits.

The team published a paper on the dust-emitting body in The Astrophysical Journal in December, describing it as a “unique object of uncertain nature – but very likely a decaying asteroid or minor planet – orbiting a single star in a widely separated TIC binary.” 400799224.”

There are still a lot of unknowns left to investigate, including which star in the system the object orbits and what kind of object is able to release so much dust without collapsing. CfA said, “The team plans to continue observing the object and incorporate historical observations of the sky to try to determine its differences over many decades.”

While TESS may focus on finding exoplanets, it has provided plenty of additional material, such as This elegant look to the guilty, a A wonderful view of the southern starry sky And now, the interesting puzzle of TIC 400799224.

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