Astronomers have discovered a peculiar star in the depths of space, which first dimmed to the point of nearly disappearing only to regain its brightness over the course of about six months, Live Science reports.
"It's really quite unusual, that's not something that's been seen before," said Philip Lucas, an astrophysicist at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK.
The discovery in question was made during the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea survey in which the VISTA telescope was used to examine nearly 1 billion stars using infrared light, the media outlet notes.
The "blinking star" was designated VVV-WIT-8, with Lucas explaining that “WIT” actually stands for “What Is This?”; it is an old and cool celestial body about 100 times bigger than our Sun, which sits 25,000 light-years away, near the center of the Milky Way.
While some stars, known as Cepheid variables, do exhibit "regular fluctuations in brightness", the media outlet points out, VVV-WIT-8 only displayed this dimming once (in 2012) during the time the survey (which has run since 2010) examined it.
While the nature of the brightness dip shown by VVV-WIT-8 apparently suggests that something passed in front of it, Lucas said that such a hypothetical object seemed to be "really thick, almost as impenetrable to light as a solid object."
He also noted that if a companion star was orbiting the VVV-WIT-8, telescopes would’ve detected light emitted by it.
"There's a lot of possibilities and none of them quite work," Lucas remarked.
According to the media outlet, possible explanations for this phenomenon include a random object flying in front of the star, and VVV-WIT-8 having "natural dips just as Cepheids do", though apparently "no Cepheid has ever been seen fluctuating to such an extreme degree."
The explanation currently favored by scientists reportedly postulates that "a large, dusty disk of material surrounds the star and occasionally passes in front of it, blocking its light."
Lucas also suggested that, if such a disk is in fact surrounding VVV-WIT-8, the said disk may be orbiting the star on its own or “surround some kind of dense companion” such as a black hole or a dim star.