Astronomers detect for the first time a star devouring a planet

A team of astronomers has observed for the first time a star with characteristics similar to our Sun, devouring a planet that was probably the size of Jupiter.

The star called ZTF SLRN-2020. It is located about 15,000 light-years away in the Milky Way galaxy on the Eagle Constellation and swallowed a gas giant whose orbit is even closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun.

After running out of “fuel” in its core, the star began to grow in size, closing the gap with its neighboring planet and eventually consuming it entirely.

Previously, experts had indicated that when a star becomes a red giant he is able to “eat” the planets that revolve around him.

In fact, they predict that in about 5 billion years the sun will go through an aging process similar, reaching 100 times its current diameter, absorbing Mercury, Venus and, in the worst case, Earth.

Illustrative image of a red giant devouring a planet.

Frompostdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and lead author of the discovery and subsequent study, says: “Confirmation that Sun-like stars are engulfing inner planets provides us with a missing link in our understanding of fate. planets. .” solar systems, including our own.

How did they detect that the planet had been devoured by its star?

Although astronomers have already identified many stars red giants and suspected that in some cases they consume neighboring planets, the phenomenon had never been observed directly.

The event was detected using several ground-based observatories and NASA’s NEOWISE (Near Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer) spacecraft. JAR.

The drag from the atmosphere slowed the planet, shrinking its orbit and eventually sending it below the star’s visible surface, like a scorching meteor in Earth’s atmosphere.

The energy transfer caused the star to temporarily increase in size and become a few hundred times brighter.

Illustrative image.

The flash after the planet’s disappearance was first shown in observations of the Zwicky Transitional Facility (ZTF, for their English abbreviations). It’s a National Science Foundation tool that uses Caltech’s Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego to scan the sky every night.

Realizing the star was shining like never before and fading, they initially thought it was a nova explosion, an astronomical event that occurs when a white dwarf star steals material from a other.

Event Validation

But, looking at the data from NEOWISE and the WM Keck Observatory atop Maunakea in Hawaii, it was revealed that something else was going on. From there, he saw the star brighten almost a year before ZTF detected the flash. This glow was evidence of dust (which emits infrared light) forming around the star.

De and his colleagues believe the dust indicates the planet did not collapse without a fight and ripped hot gas from the puffy star’s surface as it headed toward its doom.

Artist’s illustration showing a planet gradually spiraling down towards its host star. The planet extracts gas from the star, sending it into space. There, the gas cools and turns to dust, visible to astronomers. Credits: R. Hurt & K. Miller (Caltech/IPAC)

You might also be interested in: Astronomers puzzled by the black hole that ejected a devoured star years ago.

As the gas drifted through space, it would have cooled and turned to dust, like water vapor turning to snow. Then even more gas was spewed into space during the star-planet collision, producing more dust visible to both ground-based infrared observatories and NEOWISE.

The scientists also made some interesting observations that further shed light on their research: the explosion lasted approximately 100 Earth days; the material ejected corresponds to approximately 33 terrestrial masses of hydrogen and approximately 0.33 terrestrial masses of dust; the devouring star is between 0.8 and 1.5 times the mass of the Sun; the planet had between 1 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

It’s the first time astronomers have seen a Sun-like star engulf a planet, shedding light on the possible fate that will befall Earth in a few billion years. These new observations give experts an idea of ​​what these events should look like, opening up the possibility of finding more in the universe.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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