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The secret of the three stars that disappeared into thin air, a cosmic mystery

The secret of the three stars that disappeared into thin air, a cosmic mystery

On July 19, 1952Palomar Observatory He was conducting a photographic survey of the night sky. Part of the project was to take multiple images of the same area of ​​the sky, to help identify things like… Asteroids. At approximately 8.52pm that evening, a photographic plate captured the image Light from 3 stars very close. At power 15, it was too bright in the photo. At 9.45 pm, the same area of ​​the sky was observed again, but… This time the three stars were nowhere to be seen. In less than an hour, they disappeared completely.

Stars don’t disappear into thin air. They may explode or have a brief period of brightness, but they do not disappear. however The photographic evidence was there. The three stars are clearly visible in the first photo and not visible in the second. So the hypothesis is that the brightness suddenly dimmed, but this explanation is also difficult to accept. Subsequent observations found no evidence that the stars had dimmed beyond a factor of 24. This means they may have dimmed by a factor of 10,000 or more. What could make the stars so dim? Surprisingly And then quickly?

Credit: Palomar Observatory/Solano et al

One possibility is that They are not 3 starsbut a. A star may have happened to glow briefly, such as a fast radio burst from a magnetar. While this was happening, a stellar-mass black hole may have passed between the object and us, causing a gravitational lensing effect to make the flare appear as three objects. The problem with this hypothesis is what such an event would be like Extremely rareBut other photographs taken in the 1950s show similarly rapid disappearances of multiple stars. In some cases, the stars are separated by arcminutes, which is difficult to reproduce using gravitational lensing.

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Another idea is that they were not stars at all. The three bright spots are located at a distance of 10 arc seconds from each other. If they are 3 individual objects, something must have caused them to brighten. Given a time period of about 50 minutes, the causal relationship with the speed of light requires that they be no more than 6 astronomical units apart. This means they cannot be more than two light years away. It could be Oort cloud objectsSome events caused its brightness to increase during the same period. Subsequent observations failed to find them because they may have drifted along their orbits since then.

a third hypothesis They weren’t things at all. The Palomar Observatory is not far from the deserts of New Mexico where nuclear weapons tests took place. Radioactive dust from the tests may have contaminated the photographic plates, causing bright spots to appear on some images but not others. Given similar disappearances observed on other photographic plates from the 1950s, this seems entirely possible.

At this point, it’s all just speculation. What we really need is to record some of these events in modern sky observations, where we can quickly go back and make additional observations. At the moment, the “three stars” are A mystery still waiting to be solved.

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