A massive star in a distant galaxy has puzzled astronomers by disappearing without a trace.
Scientists have observed the star for decades because it was in the late stages of its lifetime, which means that a huge supernova explosion could occur.
It was observed brilliantly between 2001 and 2011 but data from 2019 revealed its absence.
Perplexed at how such a big star could mysteriously disappear, researchers looked back at data from 2016 and found that the star was also missing then.
Somehow it seems to have disappeared sometime after 2011.
Now scientists are wondering if the star skipped the supernova stage, which was previously thought to be a necessary step at the end of a star̵
Instead, they think it could only have collapsed in a black hole.
Astrophysicist Andrew Allan said: “If true, his would be the first direct discovery of such a monster star ending his life in this way.”
Scientists used to be able to discover the huge star of the Kinman Dwarf galaxy, 75 million light years away in the Aquarius constellation.
We do not currently have the technology for observing individual stars at this distance, but researchers used to be able to retrieve bright signatures for the current shining blue variable star.
These stars are known super giants or sometimes even hyper giants approaching the end of their lifespan.
This makes them extremely unstable and bright, with constant change in brightness expected.
Early observations suggested that the star was 2.5 to 3.5 million times as bright as the sun.
It is this that makes the star suddenly disappear without even a trace of a supernova being very strange.
Scientists have provided two possible explanations for the disappearance of the mystery.
The first is that the star has dimmed and is now shrouded in a huge cloud of dust from its own eruptions.
In the second scenario, the star underwent its final deadlock and collapsed in a black hole.
We cannot rule out that the massive star underwent an undiscovered supernova, but it is very rare that it would not leave an afterglow for many years to come.
Astrophysicist Jose Groh said: “We may have discovered one of the most massive stars in the local universe that gently enters at night.”
The research is led by PhD student Andrew Allan from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
This study has been published in the monthly announcements of the Royal Astronomical Society.