In the Northern hemisphere’s sky, hovering above the Milky Way, there are two constellations—Cygnus the swan, her wings outstretched in full flight, and Lyra, the harp that accompanied poetry in ancient Greece, from which we take our word “lyric.”
Between these constellations sits an unusual star, invisible to the naked eye, but visible to the Kepler Space Telescope, which stared at it for more than four years, beginning in 2009.
“We’d never seen anything like this star,” says Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoc at Yale. “It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”
The light pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation. That would be expected if the star were young.
When our solar system first formed, four and a half billion years ago, a messy disk of dust and debris surrounded the sun, before gravity organized it into planets, and rings of rock and ice.
But this unusual star isn’t young.
If it were young, it would be surrounded by dust that would give off extra infrared light. There doesn’t seem to be an excess of infrared light around this star.
It appears to be mature.