A 175 year old mystery has been solved with the University of Michigan’s discovery of a mysterious disc-shaped object eclipsing a famous variable star. Epsilon Auriga has always confounded astronomers who study variable stars, as it seemed to be an eclipsing variable, but never behaved the way such the model predicts: While its brightness dips according to a regular twenty seven year cycle, the variations at the peak of the cycle have never been regular, or predictable.
Now though, interferometric observations by the Michigan Infra-Red Combiner (MIRC) instrument have successfully zoomed in to present the first ever images of the star while it dims, and have revealed a massive disc-shaped structure passing in front of the star, blotting out part of it’s light. Interferometry is a technique whereby the light captured by multiple telescopes is combined to form a super-image equivalent to that produced by a telescope much bigger than any which currently exists. While a great deal of work remains to be done to identify the disc, one theory suggests that Epsilon Auriga might have an extremely young companion star which has not yet shed it’s proto-planetary disc – the object we see could be the nursery in which a new star’s planets are still forming.