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Star detected while swallowing a planet

by Sofia Navarro
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For the first time, astronomers have detected the moment when a star, already without fuel, swallows a planet. This fate will be the same that Earth will face in about five billion years, at the hands of the dying Sun.

The event occurred in our galaxy about 12,000 light-years away and is published in Nature by an international team including, among others, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and Harvard University.

Kushalay De, lead author of the study from MIT, explained that they were “seeing the final stages of the planet’s ingestion,” and the planet is estimated to have been a hot Jupiter-sized world that was dragged by the atmosphere of the dying star and eventually into its core.

When a star runs out of fuel, it swells to a million times its size, swallowing all matter, including any planets in its path. Until now, only the previous and subsequent moments of this process had been observed.

The planetary disappearance seems to have occurred near the constellation of Aquila. Astronomers observed a burst from a star that became more than 100 times brighter in just ten days before quickly fading away.

This flash of white light was followed by a cooler and more durable signal, leading the team to conclude that this combination could only be due to one event: a star swallowing a nearby planet.

“We are seeing the future of Earth,” which will suffer the same fate in about five billion years, when it is expected that the Sun will consume and burn the inner planets of the solar system, De said.

In May 2020, the team discovered a burst and it took a year to find an explanation, as other possibilities, such as a binary star, had to be ruled out.

From the data, they calculated the total amount of energy released by the star since its initial burst and discovered that it was surprisingly small: about 1/1,000 the magnitude of any observed stellar merger in the past.

What merged with the star had to be 1,000 times smaller than any other star ever seen. “And it’s a happy coincidence that Jupiter’s mass is about 1/1,000 the mass of the Sun. That’s when we realized: that was a planet, crashing into its star,” De said.

Thus, the scientists were finally able to explain the initial, bright, and hot burst, which was likely the final moment of a Jupiter-sized planet being dragged by the atmosphere of a dying star.

TYT Newsroom

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