Astronomers have announced that they have accidentally discovered a completely new type of star dubbed “ancient smokers” because of its strange and mysterious behavior. These observations are the result of a decade of research using the VISTA telescope that focused on something completely different.

Philip Lucas, an astrophysicist at Britain's University of Hertfordshire, and his team spent ten years analyzing observations from the VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) in the Chilean Andes to track newborn stars (called protostars), which are abundant in stars. Explosions. Their mission was successful because they found as many as 32 protostars, but in the process they discovered something else that turned out to be mysterious and very interesting.

The stars blow smoke

In the region near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, where stars are crowded and space is rich in various minerals, “old smokers” lurk, spewing clouds of dust. Scientists have identified as many as 21 such stars. Lucas said the most interesting and unusual thing about them is that they “just sit and do nothing.” These ancient red stars appear to have become 40 to 100 times dimmer for seemingly no reason. A telescope operating in the infrared spectrum can barely see them.

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The stars remained dim for several years, then returned to their previous brightness without warning. Astronomers concluded that the loss of brightness was caused by clouds of dust ejected by the star for an unknown reason. This smokescreen blocked the light until the particles dispersed into space or fell back to the surface of the celestial body.

Heavy star dust

According to Lucas, in this region of the galaxy there is a large concentration of heavy elements (mainly metallic), which may cause the formation of large amounts of dust in the star's atmosphere. However, astrophysicists disagree about how the “ancient smokers” blew this dust into space.

The topic still requires a lot of additional research, but if the Lucas team's predictions are confirmed, the material emitted by these stars may play a large role in the distribution of heavy elements throughout our galaxy and even beyond.

Mateusz Tomiczk, journalist at Wirtualna Polska

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