Most stars either faint very slowly over millions of years or undergo an instantaneous bright supernova when they die. A tiny fraction of stars might, hypothetically, collapse directly into a black hole (“failed supernovae”), but not more often than once every few hundred years in the Milky Way. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that a Milky Way star would just entirely physically vanish due to any known, natural phenomena. But supercivilisations could have all kind of reasons to hide or erase a star from the map, assuming available technology. Maybe this event never happens; maybe it happens today or tomorrow.
The “Vanishing and Appearing Stuff during a Century of Observations” (VASCO) mission, therefore, looks for vanishing stars in the Milky Way as a strong signature of extraterrestrial intelligence — or entirely new physical phenomena we do not know about yet.
VASCO uses modern, existing all-sky surveys like the Gaia, Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and United States Naval Observatory database (USNO ) for this project, in combination with the most state-of-the-art statistical techniques used within astronomy and developed for the purpose to extract the best possible vanishing star- candidates for VASCO.
The main goals include, but are not limited to:
Find vanishing objects using surveys from different epochs in time, see previous work.
Search for signatures of extraterrestrial intelligence — or new physical phenomena — using Gaia.
Develop data processing methods to automatize the searches for vanishing objects in surveys.
The project may also give fascinating and fruitful side results, like
Discovery of a failed supernovae in the Milky Way, i.e. stars that collapse directly into black holes without accompanying supernova. In such case, the available Gaia data can reveal the entire process.
Discovery of extreme variable objects in the sky surveys close to the detection limit, e.g. extreme Active Galactic Nuclei. These are fundamentally interesting to understand the build-up of super-massive black holes.