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United Arab Emirates
07/21/2012 12:56 AM
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Huge stellar dust cloud vanishes, leaving only questions
Astronomers are reporting a baffling discovery never seen before: A huge cloud of dust around a nearby star has disappeared.
“It’s like the classic magician’s trick — now you see it, now you don’t,” said Carl Melis, a postdoctoral scholar at University of California San Diego and lead author of the research. “Only in this case, we’re talking about enough dust to fill an inner solar system, and it really is gone!”
“It’s as if the rings around Saturn had disappeared,” said co-author Benjamin Zuckerman, a University of California Los Angeles astronomer. “This is even more shocking because the dusty disc of rocky debris was bigger and much more massive than Saturn’s rings. The disc around this star, if it were in our solar system, would have extended from the sun halfway out to Earth, near the orbit of Mercury.”
Research on the cosmic vanishing act appears July 5 in the journal Nature. The eerie event occurred around a star some 450 light years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Centaurus. A light year is the distance light travels in a year.
“We don't have a satisfactory explanation,” said Melis. “There is no evidence to suggest that the star zapped the dust with some sort of mega-flare or any other violent event.”
[link to www.world-science.net