Observations by the Gemini South telescope in Chile and several other instruments found that the infrared light emitted by the dust had dropped by more than half. In subsequent studies, the amount of dust around the star had all but vanished, dropping by a factor of nearly 30 in two years.
Such a dramatic change is astonishingly fast when compared to the million-year time scale of most astronomical events, researchers said. [Top 10 Star Mysteries]
"The dust disappearance at TYC 8241 2652 1 was so bizarre and so quick, initially I figured that our observations must simply be in error in some strange way," said study co-author Ben Zuckerman of the University of California, Los Angles.
The quickly vanishing disk may help scientists better understand how planets formed in early solar systems, including our own, researchers said.
The amount of dust around a star rises and falls over time. After a star forms, young planets are created from the leftover debris, known as a protoplanetary disk.
But the early life of a solar system is typically a time of violent collisions, so while much of the dust is initially swept up in the creation process, the disk is repopulated as large chunks of rock crash into one other. The disk around the 10-million-year-old star was thought to be in this second stage, with rocky objects constantly smashing together.
Where did the dust disappear to so quickly? Two different theories have been advanced to explain what caused the sudden loss.
The first model suggests that the dust fell into the star, while the second proposes that the explosive impacts could have blown much of the dust completely out of the system.