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Star seen swallowing planet for 1st time, scientists say 'Earth to meet similar fate'

In a first, astronomers spot a star swallowing a planet

Earth will meet a similar fate in 5 billion years





In a study appearing today in Nature, scientists at MIT, Harvard University, Caltech, and elsewhere report that they have observed a star swallowing a planet, for the first time.

The planetary demise appears to have taken place in our own galaxy, some 12,000 light-years away, near the eagle-like constellation Aquila. There, astronomers spotted an outburst from a star that became more than 100 times brighter over just 10 days, before quickly fading away. Curiously, this white-hot flash was followed by a colder, longer-lasting signal. This combination, the scientists deduced, could only have been produced by one event: a star engulfing a nearby planet.


“We were seeing the end-stage of the swallowing,” says lead author Kishalay De, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

What of the planet that perished? The scientists estimate that it was likely a hot, Jupiter-sized world that spiraled close, then was pulled into the dying star’s atmosphere, and, finally, into its core.


A similar fate will befall the Earth, though not for another 5 billion years, when the sun is expected to burn out, and burn up the solar system’s inner planets.

“We are seeing the future of the Earth,” De says. “If some other civilization was observing us from 10,000 light-years away while the sun was engulfing the Earth, they would see the sun suddenly brighten as it ejects some material, then form dust around it, before settling back to what it was.”


The study’s MIT co-authors include Deepto Chakrabarty, Anna-Christina Eilers, Erin Kara, Robert Simcoe, Richard Teague, and Andrew Vanderburg, along with colleagues from Caltech, the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and multiple other institutions.




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