TechStar gulps down a Jupiter-sized gas giant, reveals apocalyptic fate for Earth in 5 billion years

Star gulps down a Jupiter-sized gas giant, reveals apocalyptic fate for Earth in 5 billion years

Death of a massive star - illustrative picture
Death of a massive star - illustrative picture
Images source: © DSS, JPL-Caltech, NASA, NASA Herschel Science Center

9:28 AM EST, January 14, 2024

This was the first global observation of a moment when a dying star consumed a planet the size of Jupiter or more. Researchers believe this event occurred near the Eagle constellation, approximately 39,000 light-years from Earth. The star in question was estimated to be nearly 10 billion years old.

The significance of this achievement is substantial, especially considering that until now, astronomers have only been able to observe the moments just before or immediately after such an event.

Star consumes a planet

Theoretical predictions suggest a similar fate could befall Earth when our star, the Sun, transforms into a red giant and engulfs the surrounding planets. NASA shares this prediction, suggesting that Mercury and Venus could meet this end. Morgan MacLeod of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, one of the study's authors, stressed that "this won't happen for about another 5 billion years".

In such events, stars expand millions of times beyond their original size and engulf everything within their reach. In the observed event, researcher Kishalay De from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spotted a bright explosion while reviewing sky scans made by the Palomar Observatory at the California Institute of Technology, CNN reports.

"One night I noticed a star that brightened a hundred times over the course of a week, for reasons unknown to me. It wasn't like any starburst I'd seen before," reported Kishalay De.

More observations and data were necessary to confirm their suspicion that it was a star consuming a planet. Experts used data from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA's infrared telescope. De emphasized how impactful the infrared data was, saying it "made me fall out of my chair".

With this breakthrough, scientists believe they are on the path to discovering more instances of such phenomena in the Universe. Now that they know what signals to look for, they may find numerous other planets at risk due to the stars they orbit. This could even be the eventual fate of our own Solar System.

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