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An unprecedented phenomenon… astronomers monitor the moment an enlarged star swallows a nearby planet

They had previously monitored indicators of such an event and felt its consequences. What they were missing was “to catch the star at this very moment, when a planet experiences a similar fate,” said Kechalay DN, a researcher at the Kavli Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and lead author of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

By the way, this is what awaits the Earth, but after about five billion years, when the sun approaches the end of its existence as a yellow dwarf and swells up to become a red giant. At best, its size and temperature would turn the Earth into a big molten rock. At worst, it will disappear completely.

It all started in May 2020 when Kechalai Dee observed with a special camera from the Caltech Observatory a star that began to shine a hundred times more than usual for about ten days, and it was located in the galaxy, about 12 thousand light years from Earth.

He expected to find what he was looking for, which is to observe a binary star system that includes two stars, one in orbit surrounding the other. The larger star tears the envelope of the smaller one, and with each “bite” a light is emitted.

“It looked like a merger of stars,” the astronomer said, during a presentation of the study in which the other authors of the “Harvard-Smithsonian” and “Caltech” American research institutes participated. But analyzing the light from the star will reveal clouds of particles that are too cold to come from stellar mergers.

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In particular, the team found that the “sun-like” star released a thousand times less energy than it would have if it had merged with another star. This amount of energy detected is equal to that of a planet like Jupiter.

Quick end

On a cosmic scale that is calculated in billions of years, its end was very fast. Especially since it was “very close to the star, as it orbited it in less than a day,” according to what I said.

The monitoring process showed that the planet’s cover was torn apart by the star’s gravitational forces for a few months at most before being absorbed. It was this last stage that produced a luminous glow for about ten days.

Miguel Montargis, an astrophysicist at the Paris-BSL Observatory, explained that “the star swallows something much cooler than its surface, by thousands of degrees,” that is, “as if it were an ice cube placed in a pot filled with water in the event of boiling, which is preferable not to do.” due to heat exchange.

As part of this interaction, the star released large clouds of gas into interstellar space, which then cooled for several months into clouds of dust.

The digestion process went smoothly, according to the study’s co-author, astrophysicist Morgan MacLeod of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He said that the scientists then saw “the star slowly contracting and returning to its previous size.”

Astronomers believe that such an event may occur several times a year in our galaxy, which includes at least a hundred billion stars, and perhaps at least the same number of planets.

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“It is possible that now that we have observed this event, we will be observing many more, and all these events will help us to have a better idea of ​​the future of the solar system,” Montargis said.