Astronomers recently observed a star nearing the end of its life and absorbing a Jupiter-sized planet. This event, detailed in the journal Nature, is thought to be a sign of the star’s aging process, as stars can expand significantly when their fuel reserves run out. While this is a far-off event for our own star, the Sun, it is estimated that in around 5 billion years it too will swell up to 100 times its current size, becoming known as a red giant. During this process it will draw in and consume planets such as Mercury, Venus and possibly Earth. Fortunately, this end-of-life transition is still relatively far away and gives us the chance to observe and learn more about the fascinating process of stellar evolution.
Astronomers have long suspected that red giant stars consume nearby planets, however, until recently, this phenomenon had never been directly observed. Kishalay De, an astronomer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and the study’s lead author, explains that this type of event has been predicted for many decades, but until now they have not been able to observe how this process actually transpires. With the use of modern technology and methods, the team of astronomers is finally able to witness a planet being consumed by a red giant star and gain insight into this phenomenon which has long eluded scientific understanding.
The discovery of the planet ZTF SLRN-2020 is a remarkable feat that highlights the capability of scientists and researchers to uncover even the most minute details of our universe. The planet was found to be similar in size to Jupiter and had an orbit even closer to its star than Mercury’s orbit around our Sun. The star itself is at the beginning of the final phase of its life cycle, with a duration of over 100,000 years. This research further shows the incredible potential for more discoveries and further exploration into our universe.
This interesting phenomenon demonstrates the immense power of a star with the ability to consume a planet, temporarily increasing its size and brightness. The drag from the atmosphere of the star caused the planet to slow down and shrink its orbit, eventually leading to the planet being consumed by the star,This is a remarkable example of the immense power of stars.
The observatory’s all-sky map quest.
The Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory was able to detect the flash of optical light due to the planet’s demise. This was impressive because of its speed in detecting the changing brightness rapidly, evidencing that novae, an event caused by a white dwarf, cannibalizing hot gas from another star, can be detected quickly. This is a major accomplishment in astronomical research and shows that powerful observatories like Palomar can still detect these events. The follow-up observations of the flash by other ground-based telescopes showed much cooler gas and dust surrounding the star, suggesting that it was not a nova. This discovery shows that novae are not always surrounded by hot gas, and that there may be other stellar events with similar characteristics. It is clear that further research is needed to understand these mysterious events and how they relate to novae.
The NEOWISE observatory has been a valuable tool for astronomers over the years, providing all-sky maps that can be used to monitor the changing positions of objects in the sky. By scanning the entire sky in infrared light every six months, NEOWISE has enabled astronomers to gain a better understanding of the universe. Its launch in 2009 marked a new era of astronomical discovery, and it is sure to continue to help unlock the mysteries of the cosmos.
The NEOWISE data showed that the star brightened before ZTF spotted the flash, which is evidence that dust was forming around it. De and his colleagues believe this dust was caused by the planet as it spiraled toward its demise, suggesting that it didn’t go down without a fight and that it could still be pulling hot gas away from the star’s surface. This research provides insight into the death of planets and how they may still affect their parent stars. The gas that was released into space during the collision of the star and the planet created dust that was observable from both ground-based infrared observatories and NEOWISE. This dust is important as it helps us to better understand the formation and evolution of stars, planets and galaxies in our universe.
The event captured by ZTF is a unique phenomenon that is unlikely to be seen again in the future, due to the size of the planets involved. Even though our Sun will still become a red giant in five billion years’ time, the light show produced will be much more subdued than what was observed. This serves as a reminder of the importance of studying and appreciating celestial events as they occur, as their beauty and rarity may never be seen again.
The new observations of mid-size stars becoming red giants provide astronomers with a template for what those events should look like, allowing them to better understand the process and discover more of these events. Theorists think that a handful of these stars consume nearby planets each year in our galaxy, giving rise to further research into this phenomenon for the benefit of astronomy. It is clear that the NEOWISE archive provides an invaluable resource to scientists and astronomers, allowing them to look back in time and access hidden treasures that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. This observation is a reminder that it is important to take note of the entire sky in order to capture any interesting events that may happen, which could lead to further discoveries.