A Stellar Mystery: How Could 100 Stars Just Vanish?
April 20, 2020 6:41 AM   Subscribe

 
Is it possible that they just moved? Or other, bigger, less bright things moved in front of them?
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:54 AM on April 20


Certainly, the most parsimonious explanation for the missing stars is that they are natural phenomena such as extremely flaring dwarf planets, failed supernova, or stars that might directly collapse into a black hole. But there seem to me too many anomalies to explain all the vanished stars as known natural phenomena. In their current paper, the authors themselves discuss the possibility that they’re seeing unknown phenomena, or that the vanished “stars” could be relics of technologically advanced civilizations, particularly the theoretical mega-engineering projects known as Dyson spheres.

How about reflective objects in the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud which subsequently moved? I guess the 1950s catalogers would have done spectral measurements to rule out reflected solar light?
posted by XMLicious at 6:54 AM on April 20


I believe Arthur C. Clarke had the explanation in his short story
The Nine Billion Names of God (link. goes to Wikipedia summary, not sure if the story is online legally).
posted by Paladin1138 at 6:55 AM on April 20 [24 favorites]


Dyson spheres. There goes the neighborhood.
posted by sonascope at 7:05 AM on April 20 [8 favorites]


Maybe this is like when map makers add nonsense place names to their maps to detect plagiarists.

Or maybe during the preparation of the plate someone sneezed.
posted by phooky at 7:09 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Eaten. They were obviously eaten. No, I won't elaborate. You can't handle the truth.
posted by eagles123 at 7:15 AM on April 20 [18 favorites]


Didn't Obi-Wan discover that the missing star in the Jedi Archive was the result of the Sith?
posted by nubs at 7:23 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


I believe Arthur C. Clarke had the explanation

Yeah, my immediate reaction is to think that without any fuss, they were going out.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:25 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


/whistles innocently to cover suspiciously fusionlike noises from behind back
posted by aihal at 7:29 AM on April 20 [12 favorites]


I continue to register my extreme disappointment that the odds we're alone in the universe are basically zero but the speed of light is so terrible that until we can figure out how to work around that we're basically stuck here.
posted by mhoye at 7:31 AM on April 20 [12 favorites]


I'd rule out technical issues (such as dust on the lens elements or plate) and even dark matter before we get into OH DYSON SPHERES
posted by thecjm at 7:34 AM on April 20 [9 favorites]




Those were not stars. Those were massive ships that were moving whole civilizations from doomed planets to new ones. They eventually found their way here, to our humble little planet, and they have quietly assimilated themselves into our civilization. We are their children.

No? Dyson Spheres it is? Fine. Probably better that way. Who knows what those civilizations did to their home planets to doom them.
posted by NoMich at 7:50 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Eaten. They were obviously eaten. No, I won't elaborate. You can't handle the truth.

I'm relieving you of duty, Commodore Decker!
posted by briank at 7:59 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


Note that there are about 600 Million objects involved here and only about 100 disappeared. They did look at image quality and have some theories but, since these objects are gone there is no way to get more information on them such as proper motion, spectra etc.

There were thousands of objects which "appeared" but this is less strange as new stufff appears all the time in the galaxy. Stars have a specific lifecycle and so don't just vanish suddenly barring some extreme, often end-of-life events which are themselves detectable.
posted by vacapinta at 8:01 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Wondered when you would notice!
We here at the Spilled Milk Consortium have moved into optimising the larger scale structure of the universe. For far too long cosmology has been dominated by those who are satisfied with simply describing the universe rather than doing something about it.
We see a large number of monetisation opportunities in a structure that has been dominated by the moribund tenets of a discarded paradigm. For example - why is starlight free? We're working on that!
We look forward to working with all sentients in this new, fiscally dynamic business field. You'll be hearing much more about us soon, we promise!
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:13 AM on April 20 [11 favorites]


obvsly it's fenrisulfr, next question.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:16 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


The Dark Phoenix hungered
posted by ckape at 8:18 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


This is interesting. I worked on designing and implementing the data pipeline for Pan-STARRS from 2008-2014 or so. When I have a minute today I’ll read the actual paper. I wonder if these sources can be cross matched to other catalogs (2MASS maybe.)
I would very much suspect that these 100 sources are victims of an image processing anomaly, but if I have some time today I can look at the actual object and detection data. Cool!
posted by capnsue at 8:19 AM on April 20 [19 favorites]


Palpatine just keeps on building those damn death stars
posted by potrzebie at 8:20 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


...overhead, without any fuss, the stars were being paywalled.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:20 AM on April 20 [20 favorites]


Fame got to be too much, they're gone incognito, away from the public eye. "I vant be alone!"
posted by otherchaz at 8:20 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I have eaten
the stars
that were in
the catalog

and which
you were probably
saving
for observation

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so fiery
posted by Foosnark at 8:38 AM on April 20 [50 favorites]


they're self-isolating.
posted by condour75 at 8:50 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Those were massive ships that were moving whole civilizations from doomed planets to new ones. They eventually found their way here, to our humble little planet, and they have quietly assimilated themselves into our civilization. We are their children.

Well, the ones that weren't eaten by the enormous mutant star goat, anyway.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:57 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


The Electric Universe theory posits that stars are not isolated fusion reactors in space but electrical plasma phenomena, Z-pinches in the galactic electrical circuits. The stars change brightness not due to using up their nuclear fuel, but because electrical potential in the galactic cirucuit feeding the star has changed and it has gone from “glow mode” to “dark mode”

Standard cosmology is being confounded by results from space, resulting in the “crisis in cosmology”; The theories are not matching the results, and lots of “impossible” things are being found that the Standard Model says should not exist.

EU theory posits that this is because modern cosmologists ignore electromagnetism as an organizing force on the galactic scale,. and the existence of galactic-scale electrical circuits in space.

EU says that their theories better explain the data. Not only that, EU theories can both be tested in space as well as in the lab, and they scale up to stellar and galactic scales. The Safire Project has been able to experiment with the electric model of the Sun, and has been reporting on their successes in putting EU theories to the test in the lab.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:00 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


Mostly can be traced back to one party at the observatory where someone, even though they were scientists and knew better, brought glitter.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 9:00 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


OK, I knew this day would come. I’ve been selling them off secretly to Andromeda!
I HAVE A MAGNETAR HABIT! It started out simply, with some light gravitational play with the neutron stars, but it got out of hand!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:12 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


There's a sci-fi story (the title/author escapes me) in which the universe begins to unravel, starting with large-scale objects, then in a matter of weeks progresses down to smaller objects until individual atoms are torn apart. Scientists discover this when quasars start disappearing. All I'm saying is, like, has anyone measured the fine-structure constant lately?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:19 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Is it possible that they just moved? Or other, bigger, less bright things moved in front of them?

I found this: https://www.universetoday.com/135453/stars-move-tracking-movements-across-sky/

So I guess the answer is: yes, but astronomers would be able to tell, so that's not the answer?
posted by Automocar at 9:28 AM on April 20


Well, the ones that weren't eaten by the enormous mutant star goat, anyway.

Unfortunately, that has to be baked into any plan that involves moving folks from one planet to another.
posted by NoMich at 9:31 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


Stars have a specific lifecycle and so don't just vanish suddenly barring some extreme, often end-of-life events which are themselves detectable

Specifically, every end of life event we've detected has been detectable. We have never detected an undetectable one.

I'm mostly joking and I'd put a lot of other possible explanations above "some rare event we haven't worked out a theory for because we didn't know it was happening" but I'd still put that above "every year a couple dozen Dyson spheres get completed."
posted by mark k at 9:59 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


This seems like the kind of thing the bots would blame on Mike Nelson.
posted by wittgenstein at 10:14 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


Were they in the edges of a different galactic phenomenon, then moved off within a broader field? There was talk in here about a dwarf star that moved near our solar system a while back. I kind of thought we were in this invisible space goo,(dark matter,) held in the galactic phenomenon but in relationship with that which me move through as a group. So much for my seat of the pants understanding, but the pants are at least clean...
posted by Oyéah at 10:16 AM on April 20


"Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.”
posted by allthinky at 10:17 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


"Well, the thing about a black hole - its main distinguishing feature - is it's black. And the thing about space, the colour of space, your basic space colour, is black. So how are you supposed to see them?"
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:36 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


I blame the cat.
posted by Mchelly at 10:55 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Fell off the turtle, huh? Yeah, that happens.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:02 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


How about reflective objects in the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud which subsequently moved?

This is an interesting idea that the paper didn't address. It did rule out the possibility of asteroids (or any moving bodies that is relatively close to Earth), since they would have left a streaked image during the 45-50 minute exposures.

But Kuiper belt and Oort cloud objects can move a lot slower than that, since the rate of apparent motion is related to the distance from the Sun. It's quite possible that a distant moving object could have appeared stationary in 1950 but meandered off the field in the intervening decades.

The problem is that these 100+ missing "stars" are *bright* by outer solar system standards. The magnitude range (r mag =14-20, smaller is brighter) is similar to the very biggest and brightest dwarf planets, by which I mean Pluto and Eris. Most KBOs and scattered objects are much fainter than that. (And forget about the Oort cloud; even "inner Oort cloud" objects like Sedna are only 22nd mag, which is far too faint.) So now we would turn a "100 missing stars" problem into a "100 missing biggest dwarf planets" problem.

That said, Eris is an interesting case to consider, since it is so eccentric. Currently it's at about R=18 mag despite being at just about the furthest point in its orbit; in a few hundred years when it approaches perihelion, it will be brighter than Pluto (13-15 mag). You could imagine that some of these "missing stars" are bright KBOs in eccentric orbits that were at their brightest in 1950, which grew dimmer due to distance in the intervening decades.

They'd all have to be pretty red, though, and they'd all have to be pretty big, and if they were all "missing dwarf planets" that would be highly interesting for planet formation modelers. (Someone should check where the coordinates of these missing stars fall compared to Planet Nine's potential coterie of extremely scattered objects...)

But most likely it's some weird star thing.
posted by puffyn at 11:44 AM on April 20 [9 favorites]


Carmen Sandiego is stepping up her game!
posted by Slinga at 11:55 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


The Declination (as well as the RA) of these objects is all over the place so it is hard to put them on the ecliptic. It would be interesting though to do some statistical analysis on these coordinates to see if there is patterns.
posted by vacapinta at 12:15 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


"After a thorough and intensive investigation, astronomers have determined conclusively that the observed behavior is due to some weird star thing. Thank you and good evening."
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:30 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


[checks sock drawer]

Nope, not there.
posted by sneebler at 12:57 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


How Could 100 Stars Just Vanish?

As the neons dim, to the coat of white
Rael Imperial Aerosol Kid
Wipes his gun - he's forgotten what he did
And the lamb lies down on Broadway
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:28 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


The Q must be having another civil war.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:54 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


There's a sci-fi story (the title/author escapes me)

Argh argh argh, I remember this too (or maybe a different one).

The one I remember, which I could swear I found through MetaFilter, was set in UK, involved a mother and daughter, the daughter being a cosmologist (?) who had been investigating unexplained bursts of radiation from other star systems. The climactic final (?) line as the world was torn apart was something like "They were saying goodbye."

No set of search terms is working for me at the moment.
posted by Not A Thing at 2:11 PM on April 20


Is it Steve Baxter's "Last Contact"?
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:26 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Last Contact by Stephen Baxter.
Baxter destroys the universe. Again.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:27 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Jinx!
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:27 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


KATAMARI

[cool dance]

DAMACY-YO
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:08 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I thought we could fairly easily check for Dyson spheres by looking for the waste heat. All that solar energy, even if collected and harnessed as much as possible, will still re-radiate as a massive IR source, something even our land-based IR telescopes should be able to detect with a quick scan. https://home.fnal.gov/~carrigan/infrared_astronomy/infrared_astronomy_master.html
posted by Blackanvil at 4:07 PM on April 20


Just nest the Dyson sphere in layers of Stirling engines.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:15 PM on April 20


How about reflective objects in the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud which subsequently moved?

There's not much light out there to reflect.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:23 PM on April 20


Ah, that's just what they want us to believe!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:15 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


They were code artifacts from the old night sky algorithm. When the programmers started updating the system in the sixties and seventies to accommodate the new levels of processing power that the simulation requires to allow virtual computers they had to clean up some of the kludge. Some project manager forgot to check to see if the agents had made these kinds of records because the update had to get pushed out. They had been hoping to get back to it in a latter update but that project's version tracker just wasn't robust enough to remind the replacement manager to do the code and memory cleanup. Now they are starting to freak a little. Maybe the end users won't notice that the agents are starting to notice the little inconsistencies...
posted by Ignorantsavage at 8:44 PM on April 20


Thanks capnsue and puffyn for adding your insights, this is a really interesting problem.
posted by Horselover Fat at 6:27 AM on April 21


Think of the discrepancies as being compression artefacts in the sky. It was easy enough to keep the heavens consistent when humans were just observing them in the visual spectrum, but it takes too much bandwidth to present all these stars when they're being observed in visual, infrared, ultraviolet, radio plus gravitational measurements. If you need to access one of the "missing" stars sacrifice an ABD within a pentacle of magnetic tape and an Archivist will appear to you shortly.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:03 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


You're looking for The Men Who Stole the Stars, which answered the question in 1979 in Sea History magazine.
posted by bassomatic at 8:07 AM on April 21


i can feel the cosmos
posted by poffin boffin at 8:24 PM on April 21


Meanwhile I can feel the cosmo's.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:26 PM on April 21


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