Thanks for the replies, guys! I'm glad that you consider it interesting.
So I'm browsing this website, and the information is so poorly set out >.< I can't make out anything from it. Could someone please explain to me wtf this thing may be?
Agreed: It could be a bit better presented. That actually surprises me, given that the people involved in the project
seem pretty savvy. If anybody's got any specific suggestions about how to improve the site, I seriously suggest dropping them a note
-- I bet that they'd appreciate the input. I also suggest trying to get a date with Project Manager Rebecca Turner, because she's super cute.
With regard to what exactly might be causing the phenomenon... good question! The website discusses some ideas here
. The website of the American Association of Variable Star Observers discusses some ideas here
. Basically, most of the astronomers and astrophysicists involved believe that there's something really hot and bright, like a star or stars, at the center of a disk of cool junk, like asteroids and dust, and we're looking at the disk's edge.
Here's a visual representation of the prevailing model:
The website of the American Association of Variable Star Observers offers this:Epsilon Aurigae: What we think we know
Our understanding of this mysterious variable has grown along with the sophistication of astronomical technology, and while we still don't fully understand the system, we do know a lot more now than we did at the start of the 20th Century. Epsilon Aurigae has been observed in nearly all wavelengths of light; it is known to be bright in the infrared, optical, and ultraviolet, and the star is photometrically and spectroscopically variable at many wavelengths. The primary star has also been resolved using optical interferometry, and has an apparent diameter of about 2.2 milliarcseconds; its absolute size isn't known because there's no reliable distance measure, but it is assumed to be a giant or supergiant star.
In their 1991 paper in
The Astrophysical Journal, Carroll et al. neatly summarized the state of our understanding at that time:
Most recent interpretations of the observations seem to confirm the model set forth in 1991...
- the primary is an F0I supergiant, possibly well over 10 solar masses, and is itself pulsating,
- the secondary is a cool, thin disk of varying opacity, probably with a hole in the center, and tilted or warped with respect to its orbit about the F star,
- at the center of the disk, there is a hot object -- most likely a massive close binary system rather than a black hole, and
- the combined mass of the disk and central object of the secondary is nearly the same as that of the primary.
I hope that that helps! Just for the record, it's only the prevailing model, albeit a reasonable one -- it would be a mistake to assume a priori that it's correct and that Citizen Sky exists just to confirm it. Who knows what the observations will reveal?
Will it blow our minds?