That may sound bizarre but it is actually true according to findings to be published in the Astronomical Journal by a team of astronomers from Vanderbilt, Harvard, Lehigh, Ohio State, and Pennsylvania State universities. Colleagues from Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network and the American Association of Variable Star Observers also contributed to the study.
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According to the study, solar eclipses occur every 69 years and lasts for 3 ½ years in the binary star system TYC 2505-672-1 which is 10,000 light years away from Earth. This phenomenon takes home the trophy for longest duration stellar eclipse and longest period between eclipses in a binary system - Vanderbilt news reports.
“It’s the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest orbit for an eclipsing binary ever found…by far,” said the paper’s first author Vanderbilt doctoral student Joey Rodriguez.
Before this latest discovery, the Epsilon Aurigae was thought to have the longest eclipse lasting 640-730 days and occurring every 27 years. Astronomers have been able to fully study this star because it is much brighter and closer at 2,200 light years from Earth. It is believed to be orbited by a star which is larger than the star and covered in a thick dust of gas which partly covers it when viewed from Earth.
“One of the great challenges in astronomy is that some of the most important phenomena occur on astronomical timescales, yet astronomers are generally limited to much shorter human timescales,” said co-author Keivan Stassun, professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt.
“Here we have a rare opportunity to study a phenomenon that plays out over many decades and provides a window into the types of environments around stars that could represent planetary building blocks at the very end of a star system’s life,” Stassun added.
This discovery could not have been possible without the large inputs of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) network – a non-profit organization of professional and amateur astronomers dedicated to understanding variable stars, and the Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard (DASCH) program – based on thousands of photographic plates taken by Harvard astronomers between 1890 and 1989 as part of a regular survey of the northern sky.
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The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.