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9 weird transients from 1950 still unexplained

25 Jul 2021, 12:00 UTC
9 weird transients from 1950 still unexplained
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View larger. | Left, a red-sensitive Palomar Sky Survey image taken on April 12, 1950. Right, a red-sensitive image of the same patch of sky taken in 1996. The 9 weird transients are seen in the 1950 image (circled) but not the later one. Neither were they seen in the blue-sensitive Palomar Sky Survey image taken half an hour earlier the same day, nor in a second red-sensitive image taken 6 days later on April 18, 1950. Image via Villarroel et al/ Nature.
Do you love a good mystery? Then you’ll probably like this one. Something odd happened back in 1950, when astronomers noticed that nine starlike point sources of light had simultaneously appeared in a photographic plate acquired at the Palomar Observatory in Southern California as part of the famous Palomar Sky Survey. That might or might not sound unusual. But … none of those point sources were seen in images taken just before, of the same small patch of sky. Likewise, they didn’t appear in images taken after, either. That remains true until today, even with images from current surveys that are much more sensitive to faint objects. So what were these 9 weird transients?
That’s the question ...

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