The Mysterious Object Orbiting TIC 400799224 that baffles astronomers

The anomalous behavior of two bodies belonging to the binary system TIC 400799224, rotating around each other, is perplexing astronomers. For now they are only hypotesis.

About 2,300 light years away from us there is a “mysterious object” (called TIC 400799224) which periodically shows a decline in brightness that lasts about 4 hours, after which it returns to normal conditions.

The first explanation sketched by astronomers hypothesized that it was an eclipse linked to transits of planets or asteroids, but more in-depth analyzes have ruled out this: there is something that is not easy to explain.

THE CATALOG. This “variable” object was discovered thanks to the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in 2018 with the aim of discovering small planets around the stars closest to the Sun. It has so far discovered 172 confirmed exoplanets and compiled a list of 4,703 exoplanets. “candidates”, which have yet to be studied to confirm whether or not they are planets from other stars. Its extremely sensitive camera takes images that cover a huge field of view, so much so that it creates a catalog with over 1 billion objects, from pulsating stars to supernovae, from disintegrating planets to binary stars to triple and triple star systems. even more.

What attracted the attention of Karen Collins, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and of the team that would have discovered TIC 400799224, was its behavior, completely anomalous compared to other star systems. This unusual source, in fact, showed a rapid and noticeable decline in brightness – almost 25 percent in just four hours – followed by multiple variations in brightness in the following hours, and then resumed normal lighting conditions.

An infrared image taken by TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite). In the center, with the cross, the mysterious TIC object 400799224

THE TEST. Collins then decided to do a research to see if other telescopes had already observed it without further studying it. Thus, by crossing the available data, she was able to understand that the object is probably a binary system (ie formed by two objects in reciprocal rotation) and that one of the objects pulses with a period of 19.77 days.

In her work, he therefore hypothesized that it is probably an orbiting body that periodically emits clouds of dust that obscure the other star. But while the periodicity is strict, the star’s dust occultations are irregular in shape, depth and duration.

DISCONCERTING! The nature of the orbiting body is disconcerting because the amount of dust emitted is enormous and if it were the product of the disintegration of an object, such as the asteroid Ceres in our solar system, it would have survived only eight thousand years before disappearing completely.
But that doesn’t apply to that object (unless it has only recently begun to emit dust, in astronomical terms).

So what? The researchers now plan to continue to monitor this object and to cross-reference the data with historical observations of the sky, to try to better determine the variations that have occurred over the last few decades.

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