For the first time, astronomers have captured a dying star engulfing a planet. “Like many scientific discoveries, this was an accidental discovery that really opened our eyes to this phenomenon,” said Kechalay D, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And remember how this will also be the ultimate fate of the Earth, along with the Sun, in about five billion years. In fact, as stars age and reach the end of their lives, they expand up to 1,000 times their original size, often ending up swallowing the innermost planets in their system. The Gemini South telescope, operated by the National Science Foundation’s NoirLab, made that possible. Until now, scientists have been able to observe the effects of dying stars that are expanding to engulf a planet. Now, however, they have their first direct evidence of the exact moment.
This event, called by the ZTF researchers SLRN-2020, was then analyzed at the Gemini Observatory and published in natures. The resulting explosion lasted about 100 days, and the characteristics of the light curve, as well as the ejected matter, gave astronomers information about the mass of the sunken star and its planet. The ejecta consisted of about 33 earth masses of hydrogen and about 0.33 earth masses of dust. From there, scientists estimated that the progenitor star had a mass of about 0.8-1.5 times that of our Sun and that the enveloping planet was 1 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter.
Cover image: Illustration by K Miller/R Hurt (Caltech/Ipac)
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