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Every 27 years, a two-year eclipse of Epsilon Aurigae occurs. Do scientists know what causes it?

James McArdle, Renton, Washington
RELATED TOPICS: ECLIPSES
Astronomers think a hot young star enshrouded in a wide dust disk passes in front of Epsilon Aurigae every 27 years.

Yes, astronomers have confirmed that the eclipse’s “invisible” cause is a cool, flattened disk of material encircling a central star that orbits the visible 7500-kelvin (13,000° Fahrenheit) type F supergiant star Epsilon Aurigae. This disk is similar to those surrounding T Tauri stars, a type of variable sun that is typically in an early stage of stellar evolution, and Beta Pictoris, which is progressively losing its protoplanetary disk. Scientists imaged Epsilon Aurigae during the 2009 to 2011 eclipse with the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy six-telescope interferometer array atop Mount Wilson in Southern California. The observation confirmed an earlier infrared result during the 1982 to 1984 eclipse, indicating that a 500 K (440° F) source is present in the binary system. Researchers expect that this relatively cool dust disk, some 0.6 astronomical unit thick (where 1 AU is the average Earth-Sun distance), will eclipse the visible star next in 2036 to 2038.

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