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First off, this could turn out to be one of the most important discoveries of all time: Astronomers have directly observed something huge (about four times the width of Earth's orbit) eclipsing another star, Epsilon Aurigae. After astronomers discovered some 200 years ago that it dims every 27 years, they postulated it was an eclipsing-binary star: two stars orbiting one another - in this case, a smaller one orbiting Epsilon Aurigae every 27 years - with their orbits on a direct line toward us, thus one star eclipses the other from our point of view.

But an odd detail threw a monkey-wrench into the theory: During the eclipse, the star briefly brightens. WTF? The theory was modified to include a cloud of gas and dust orbiting the primary star, perhaps surrounding the secondary (blue) star. What would that look like? Here's an artist's impression of this amazing and unique binary-star system. Note That the secondary star, young and blue, is mysteriously shrouded in a clinging disk of gas and dust, something we have not observed anywhere else in the universe:


Click the image to see the Wiki article about Epsilon Aurigae.

The solar winds and radiation pressure from a star are more than enough to blast such a cloud into smithereens in short order, yet here it is, 200 years later, still intact. This explanation seems pretty unlikely, but the observations make us come up with some pretty wacky explanations, like a shrouded star orbiting another star, or an invisible star (no, really, that was one hypothesis), or a black hole with an accretion disk. Here, check out this just-released video of the eclipse, showing the mysterious eclipse in action:



What's that look like to you? I have my own hypothesis, no less crazy than the currently operating ones. If you're an SF reader, you've probably heard of ringworlds, Dyson spheres, and other megastructures like these:

Halo players will recognize this one, also fans of Banks' Culture series.


Artist's impression of the megastructure from Niven's Ringworld.

Does it not make more sense that we're looking at an alien artifact, some kind of super-massive structure (such as a ringworld under construction, the relic of a long-destroyed megastructure, or a vast colony ship) rather than some mysterious form of binary system? Why not! Can't wait to learn more about this.

EDIT: Matt submits another potential Dyson Sphere, the "Cynus Bubble":

Click the image to see the story.



In related news, scientists have discovered multicellular life-forms on Earth that do not need oxygen to survive. This opens up opportunity for life on worlds we previously would have considered to be barren and lifeless. Of course, science fiction has given us oxygen-free aliens for decades, but now we have some scientific evidence to back it up. Like this little guy:

Click the image to see the BBC News story.

Once again I note that we live in amazing times!

Chris

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
m_danson
Apr. 8th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
That is amazing.
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
Isn't it, though!
madmatmax
Apr. 8th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the tip!
frugurl27
Apr. 8th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
This is fascinating, and your hypothesis seems more legit than the "shrouded star" crap for sure! :D
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
Sweet! Now we just need to gat a few more scientists to support my hypothesis and wham! It'll become the textbook standard explanation.
affreca
Apr. 8th, 2010 07:39 pm (UTC)
Slight correction - life forms that don't need oxygen have been known for years. For example - botulism caused by anaerobic bacteria. The awesome bit about this new critters is that they are multicellular - more than just bacteria!
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, good point - I'll edit.
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the tip!
scarlettina
Apr. 8th, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
So freaking cool!
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
Heck yes!
xjenavivex
Apr. 8th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
That is so beautiful and most awesome. Thanks also for the non-oxygen breather.
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
I know - had to share!
ericreynolds
Apr. 8th, 2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
Oh wow.
mckitterick
Apr. 8th, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Fills a person with awe, that does.
pointoforigin
Apr. 9th, 2010 02:39 am (UTC)
Oh, now that is just SO COOL. Thanks for putting it all together so even slackers with sleep deficits like me could goggle at it. ; )
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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