Some astronomers will be keeping an eye on Orion in the early morning hours over the next few weeks. They’ll be watching a star near Orion’s Belt to see if it gets dimmer. If it does, it could mean that the star is orbited by a planet with a monster set of rings.
The star is known as PDS 110. It’s just above Orion’s Belt as it rises in the wee hours of the morning.
The star is bigger, brighter, and heavier than the Sun. But it’s also a stellar infant — it’s only about 10 million years old, compared to four and a half billion years for the Sun. It’s too faint to see with the unaided eye, because it’s more than a thousand light-years away.
For about a month in both 2008 and 2011, the star got even fainter.
Astronomers considered several explanations for the fade out. And earlier this year, a team proposed that it’s the result of an eclipse by a set of rings around an orbiting planet. The team says the planet orbits the star every 2.2 years. The planet is tilted in such a way that we see its rings cross in front of the star once during each orbit. And the rings may be hundreds of times wider than the rings of Saturn, so it takes weeks for them to pass across the star.
The astronomers say the next eclipse should take place this month — perhaps as early as this weekend. So they’re keeping an eye on PDS 110 in the wee hours before dawn. If it dims as predicted, it’ll confirm that the star is orbited by a planet with a monster set of rings.
Script by Damond Benningfield