In a First, Astronomers Spot a Star Swallowing a Planet
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For the first time, astronomers have observed a star swallowing a planet. The findings have been published in the journal Nature. MIT News reports:
The planetary demise appears to have taken place in our own galaxy, some 12,000 light-years away, near the eagle-like constellation Aquila. There, astronomers spotted an outburst from a star that became more than 100 times brighter over just 10 days, before quickly fading away. Curiously, this white-hot flash was followed by a colder, longer-lasting signal. This combination, the scientists deduced, could only have been produced by one event: a star engulfing a nearby planet.
What of the planet that perished? The scientists estimate that it was likely a hot, Jupiter-sized world that spiraled close, then was pulled into the dying star’s atmosphere, and, finally, into its core. A similar fate will befall the Earth, though not for another 5 billion years, when the sun is expected to burn out, and burn up the solar system’s inner planets.
“For decades, we’ve been able to see the before and after,” says lead author Kishalay De, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “Before, when the planets are still orbiting very close to their star, and after, when a planet has already been engulfed, and the star is giant. What we were missing was catching the star in the act, where you have a planet undergoing this fate in real-time. That’s what makes this discovery really exciting.”