BASLE, 20th JUNE - It is a curious function of mankind's insatiable quest to uncover the workings of the universe that the more one observes and tries to learn about a subject, the more mysterious it often becomes.
The star CR7-85 was first discovered 23 years ago, but became especially interesting to astronomers in the early part of this decade. With no prior warning, it rapidly grew, both in magnitude and luminosity. Within a few short years, it had become one of the largest in its constellation, and astonishing temperatures were recorded on its surface.
What makes CR7-85 particularly fascinating, however, is that it contains a seemingly intrinsic property possibly unique in the cosmos: every so often, it disappears.
The first time this observation was made, it appeared so fantastical that it was rejected on the grounds of an apparent fault in the recording equipment. This seemed to be confirmed on next viewing when the star was present in its usual position in the sky. However, many months later, it 'vanished' once more. This time, it could not be denied: the star was 'missing' for a period of approximately an hour and a half.
Some time afterwards, it happened yet again. Here it was established that the star was, in fact, still present, emitting a very faint radio signal. Yet it was invisible to the eye, telescope or no.
Astronomers working to develop a model to predict the star's 'disappearances' believe they detect a pattern. When the star re-appears, it quickly regains in magnitude; indeed, at times over the last ten months, its luminosity, dwarfing its neighbours in the night sky, has startled observers. Its temperature increases too, to levels rarely before recorded. It is now thought that this extraordinary heat may be responsible for the phenomenon: when the space around CR7-85 gets too hot, it vanishes.
Using this information, and factoring in data collected by observatories in Milan and Barcelona, a 'disappearance' was predicted for this month, and it duly transpired last night. A team here in Basle was the first to notice it, and thanks to the marvels of modern communication, the world was able to share in the splendour almost instantaneously. Millions tuned in to bear witness.
Last night's happening was what is called a 'partial disappearance': the ninety-minute duration of the star's visual absence was punctuated by the occasional glowing; a couple of these were quite spectacular, the remaining few more feeble.
Debate is rife in the astronomical community as to how exactly CR7-85 should be classified. One problem in this is that it has been difficult to ascertain the substance of the star and how exactly it manages to generate such heat in the first place. Nevertheless, it hasn't stopped the speculation.
Some believe it to be something more than a star - as one researcher put it with a typical scientist's wit, a "superstar". Others take the opposite tack, that it ought not to be classified as a star at all, that it is merely a "congregation of vapours", in the words of a prominent astronomer. Those who agree with this, however, have failed to account for the star's almost incredible periodic brightness.
Research into CR7-85 has been centred on an observatory in Manchester for the past five years. Yet in recent weeks a political tempest has erupted between the British group and a team of scientists working in Madrid, who claim that they are better equipped to carry out the work. The dispute centres, as so much does in science these days, on money. The issue is expected to be resolved shortly.
CR7-85 should re-appear within days and enter a period of significant but steady luminosity. The next major increase in magnitude and temperature is predicted for August or September; the next 'vanishing', April or May of next year.