Scientists have observed a star swallowing a planet for the first time
By observing a star that swallows its planet, astronomers have taken the first direct glimpse of a complex process called “planetary swallowing”; An event that most likely awaits the earth in the very distant future.
According to the New York Timesscientists accidentally discovered a gaseous planet (eg Jupiter (but possibly larger) was observed as it was swallowed by an old Sun-like star at a distance of approximately 12,000 light-years from Earth. In the past, exciting clues from planetary engulfment events have been discovered; But no one had ever seen a star devouring a planet.
Astronomers in their study on Wednesday Nature magazine published, wrote that the discovery “provides a missing link in our understanding of the evolution and ultimate fate of planetary systems, including the one in which we live.”
Kishala D“This is the ultimate fate of the Earth,” says a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of the authors of the study. “We are actually seeing now what the Earth will face in the next five billion years.”
The life cycle of stars is related to their mass. Small stars like red dwarfs may shine for trillions of years; While the most massive stars explode only a few million years after their birth. When stars like the Sun reach the end of their lives after billions of years, they become red giants that are hundreds of times larger in size and devour everything in their path.
Signs of a planetary engulfment event can be seen throughout the Milky Way. In the past, astronomers have witnessed that the light of some stars is contaminated by the chemical effects of planets; An event that shows the swallowing and digestion of all those worlds before our eyes. Scientists have also observed hundreds of planets with short orbits that are doomed to fall within the radius of red giants in the future.
But although stars clearly consume planets from time to time, recording these moments has been challenging; Because the light emanating from these events is weak and fleeting. In fact, in May 2020, Dr. Day was using the Zwicky Transient Object Survey (ZTF), a camera mounted on the Palomar Observatory in California, to look for a completely different phenomenon called “red novae.” While making these observations, he accidentally encountered a strange visible light explosion.
What happened, Dr. Dee says, was like a “detective story.” To identify the burst, his team obtained visible light observations of the target source recorded in November 2020 by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Those images revealed a star that is cooling at 2,760 degrees Celsius, or about 10 times colder than expected from red novae.
Baffled by this surprising sighting, Dr. Day and his colleagues, using another camera at NASA’s Palomar Observatory and Weiss Space Telescope, observed the star this time in infrared light and encountered a bright system. Infrared is ideal for detecting faint objects that do not emit much energy. Finally, the researchers realized that they were most likely watching a star that was swallowing the planet in real time.