TESS looks at thousands of stars every night providing us with some of the most beautiful, strange and mysterious light curves. Here is my favourite one of the week: TIC 300446218.
This specific light curve was extracted from the TESS full frame images (FFIs) and it shows multiple dips of different depths. There appear to be two sets of alternating signals which have been highlighted in different colours. The signals highlighted with the red solid lines and the yellow dashed lines are equally spaces but have alternating depths (the yellow signal is deeper) and therefore look like they are caused by an eclipsing binary. Similarly, the signal highlighted by the blue dotted lines and the purple dot-dash lines are also periodic but have different depths. We are, therefore, likely seeing two sets of eclipsing binaries, which, if they are physically close together and tidally locked to one another, could be in a quadruple system!
TIC 300446218 is located close to the ecliptic pole, in the ‘continuous viewing zone’, and was continuously observed by TESS throughout the first year of operation. While the image above only shows a small segment of the light curve, you can see the entire coverage in the figure below.
The full light curve shows that all of the dips disappear after a couple of months and come back again a little while later. This could potentially be due to changes in brightness of a nearby variable star – when the nearby star is bright the dips in TIC 300446218 are diluted and disappear, whereas when the nearby star is faint the dips stand out for us to see. Alternatively, the plane in which the stars are orbiting around one another could be changing inclination by very very small amounts over time, meaning that the stars sometimes cross our line of sight and block a small amount of light, and sometimes don’t. More investigation is needed in order to untangle and understand this fun light curve.
Do you have a favourite light curve of the week?