Astronomers recently caught the eerie sight of an exoplanet being devoured by its star, in a preview of what will eventually happen to Earth. The Sun-like star lies within our galaxy, some 12,000 light-years away, and has bloated into an end-of-life state called a red giant. As it grows, it expands outward, which is how it was able to swallow the Jupiter-sized planet that had been in orbit around it.
The researchers were able to detect the event because of the star’s distinctive brightness pattern, which is similar to what we can expect to eventually happen to our sun. “We are looking at the future of Earth,” lead author of the research Kishalay De of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said in a statement. “If some other civilization were watching us from 10,000 light-years away as the sun engulfed the Earth, they would see the sun suddenly brighten as it ejects some material, then forms dust around it, before going back to what it was. ».
La observación de este evento, que es el primero de su tipo en ser visto como sucedió, requirió el uso de varias instalaciones de astronomía. El destello brillante inicial, que fue causado por el planeta siendo arrastrado hacia la atmósfera de la estrella, fue observado por la Instalación Transitoria Zwicky en el Observatorio Palomar en California. Observa el cielo en busca de eventos breves y transitorios. Luego, los astrónomos utilizaron datos de la misión Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer de la NASA para observar el evento en el infrarrojo, donde vieron que el destello inicial se volvió brillante extremadamente rápido, pero luego solo emitió una cantidad menor de energía.
They also used the Keck Observatory and the Gemini South Telescope to observe the long-duration, low-energy event and confirm that the flash was caused by the planet-swallowing star. This shows the type of observations that are possible now that we have telescopes watching the sky for these brief events that can last only a few weeks.
“I think there’s something quite remarkable about these results that speaks to the transience of our existence,” said co-author Ryan Lau. “After the billions of years spanning the life of our solar system, our own final stages will likely conclude in a final flash lasting only a few months.”