Is this how Earth dies? Astronomers witness sun-like star devouring planet in possible preview of our home’s ultimate fate.
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Astronomers have observed a sun-like star engulfing an exoplanet, giving us a glimpse into what might happen when our own sun dies. This event offers us important clues about the fate of our own planet and solar system.
The sun-like star was observed using the Gemini South telescope in Chile and infrared data from a NASA space telescope. It was found to have swallowed a hot gas giant planet about the size of Jupiter, becoming around 100 times more luminous over a period of 10 days.
This burst of elements and material from the event lasted around 100 days.
How common is this type of event?
Stars like our sun expand to become “red giants” when they near the end of their life, and eventually engulf the inner planets of their solar systems. Such events happen a few times a year across the Milky Way, but had never been seen until now.
What does this mean for Earth?
This event, the devouring of a planet by an engorged star, likely presages the ultimate fate of Mercury, Venus, and Earth when our sun begins to die. It is predicted that in around 5 billion years, our sun will expand into a red giant, swallowing up Mercury and Venus, and possibly Earth as well.
What can we learn from this event?
The observations of this event show us that the process of a star consuming a planet is more complex than previously thought. Researchers created astrophysical simulations to recreate what must have occurred, and discovered that the planet plunges into the star, making the star briefly balloon up, and some of the star’s outer layers are ejected to create even more dust. This event also highlights the importance of further astronomical research, as the under-construction Vera C Rubin Observatory in Chile will help astronomers to find similar events more effectively.
The observed event of a sun-like star swallowing a planet offers us valuable insights into the ultimate fate of our solar system. This event underscores the need for further astronomical research, and highlights the importance of developing a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of the universe.