Centaurus Cloud Just Vanished, Astrophysicists Totally Baffled

A dusty disk about a distant star has faded surprisingly fast, leaving scientists couple of clues to how it disappeared.

Only a couple of years ago, the space around the star TYC 8241 2652 1 was filled with dust and gas, but recent observations show the region — an perfect spot for alien planets to form — has all but vanished.

“It really is like the classic magician’s trick: Now you see it, now you don’t,” principal investigator Carl Melis of the University of California, San Diego said in a statement. “Only in this case, we’re speaking about adequate dust to fill an inner solar system, and it really is gone!”

The star is 450 light-years away, in the constellation Centaurus. At 10 million years old, it is a younger version of our 4.5-billion-year-old sun.

A quick exit

Tiny specks of dust orbiting a star absorb its energy and shine in infrared light. As the glow brightens and dims, astronomers can estimate how significantly material surrounds the star.

The disk around the star TYC 8241 2652 1 was discovered in 1983 and remained comparatively continual for 2 1/2 decades. Scientists estimated that 1,000 trillion grains of dust — the equivalent of all the sand on the beaches of Earth — circled this younger version of our sun.

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