Scientists catch Star devouring a planet in 1st-of-its-kind discovery

Photo: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/M. Garlick/M. Zamani (Fair Use)

According to a recent study, astronomers may have observed a sun-like star consuming a planet for the first time, shedding light on what could happen to Earth in about four billion years when our own dying sun swells and engulfs our planet.

Through analyzing numerous stars in different stages of evolution, scientists have found that as suns like ours near the end of their lives, they consume their primary fuel source, the hydrogen near their cores, leading their cores to contract and their outer shells to expand and cool.

This results in the “red giant” phase, during which stars can expand up to 1,000 times their original diameter and potentially swallow planets orbiting too closely, Space reported.

While it has been known that this fate awaits all planets orbiting closer to their sun than Earth, it was challenging to provide concrete evidence for this phenomenon until now, said Kishalay De, the lead author of the study and an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to Kishalay De, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the lead author of a recent study, scientists have been detecting signs of stars consuming planets for decades, both before and after the fact.

However, until now, they had never directly observed a star in the process of engulfing a planet.

De and his team were able to make a groundbreaking discovery by analyzing a burst of radiation called ZTF SLRN-2020, which occurred in 2020 in the Milky Way’s disk, close to the constellation Aquila and about 12,000 light-years away.

During this event, a star brightened by 100 times over a period of one week, Space reported.

The Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory, operated by the California Institute of Technology, detected the initial radiation burst.

The facility uses advanced equipment to scan the skies for stars that exhibit sudden and significant fluctuations in brightness, which could indicate phenomena such as novae.

Written by staff