After ten years of stargazing, astronomers have found a peculiar new type of star called as “old smoker”.
These ancient, massive stars are located towards the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, where they were once hidden. According to CNN, astronomers think that the stars—which sit dormant for decades before becoming almost undetectable and ejecting clouds of smoke and dust—may have a role in the distribution of elements throughout the universe.
Four publications detailing the observations were released on January 25 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Astronomers first observed the ancient smoking stars during the scan, which involved tracking almost a billion stars in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye.
The observations were made with the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope at Cerro Paranal Observatory, which is located high in the Chilean Andes.
The initial task for the team was to search for young stars, which are hard to locate in the Milky Way because of gas and dust obscuration. But infrared light can see through the galaxy’s heavy dust to find things that would otherwise be feeble or veiled.
A professor of astronomy at the University of Hertfordshire named Philip Lucas claims that the researchers used the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to study individual stars since two thirds of the stars were easy to detect and the rest were harder. Lucas was the lead author of one study and a coauthor of three others.
222 stars out of the hundreds of millions that astronomers saw had observable brightness changes. 32 of them were found to be young stars by the team, with luminosities growing by at least 40 times and occasionally up to 300 times. Astronomers can monitor the evolution of the stars throughout time because many of the explosions are still happening.
“Our primary goal was to locate infrequently observed young stars, also known as protostars, during their massive eruptions, which may endure for several months, years, or even decades,” stated Dr. Zhen Guo, a Fondecyt Postdoc Fellow at the University of Valparaiso in Chile. Guo coauthored two studies in addition to serving as the lead author on two others.