For the first time, astronomers have observed a star engulf a planet, tearing it apart, a preview of what will happen to Earth when the sun swells to the red giant stage in about 5 billion years. The discovery that the collision occurred 12,000 light-years away could lead to a better understanding of the chemical makeup of exoplanets.

Space scientists have long expected such an epic event to occur, even noting the lack of periplanets in ancient star systems with larger stars, according to new articleStill, they’re not sure what it would be like to see such a catastrophe through a telescope.

MIT researcher Kishalay De stumbled upon the first evidence while sifting through data from the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in California. Every 48 hours, a camera attached to the telescope surveys the stars, looking for those that change in brightness over short periods of time. Typically, this is used to pinpoint supernovae, gamma-ray bursts and other high-energy events.

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looking for stellar phenomena

When he encountered a strange signal, he set out to find evidence of stellar binary trading material.

“I noticed a star suddenly brightened 100 times over the course of a week,” De said MIT News. “This is unlike any stellar outburst I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

To investigate the strange object, he examined how it appeared in data from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, which uses spectroscopic measurements to reveal the chemical composition of the light source. The burst came from a strange set of cooler molecules, not helium and hydrogen spewed out by the binary star.

De was puzzled by the presence of such molecules in a hot, bright star that formed in very cool stars.

planet devouring star

Together with some colleagues, he reviewed more data on the burst from Palomar’s infrared camera, which showed the sheer volume of the cold molecules. After some consideration, they later concluded that during an initial outburst that lasted about 25 days, the star engulfed a planet up to 10 times the mass of Jupiter. Since then, the burst has subsided over approximately 6 months and continues to reflect the presence of the unexpected molecule.

According to MIT, this energy is equivalent to a kind of stellar gas drifting away from the star and cooling it. This material came from the planet itself, which likely passed through the star’s outer photosphere before plunging to its death.

The star is said to have only started expanding a few months ago physicsand when it starts to run out of fuel, merging with Earth will only speed up the process.

in the distant future

One day, billions of years from now, Earth will fall into the sun, along with the inner planets Mercury, Venus and Mars, possibly causing the star to expand further. (Technically, the earth is falling towards the sun right now, but since we are in a stable orbit, we miss it.)

De and other researchers plan to gather more data on star-eating events, which open a special window into the makeup of exoplanets.

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