Science and technology
The study published in Nature
The star swallows the planet: a preview of the fate that awaits the Earth
For the first time, scientists have observed a star at the end of its evolution devouring a planet in its orbit.
Thanks to data provided by the Gemini South telescope, astronomers have spotted signs of what appears to be a gas giant the size of Jupiter or larger as it is swallowed by its star.
Similar to the Sun but near the end of its evolution, the star has swelled until it became so large that it engulfed the planet.
According to scientists, this is a preview of what will happen to Earth when the Sun turns into a red giant.
The good news is that it won't happen for 5 billion years.
Thanks to the power of the Gemini South Adaptive Optics Imager (GSAOI) installed on Gemini South, one of two telescopes at the International Observatory operated by the NOIRLab of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), astronomers have been able to observe the first direct evidence of a dying star expanding to swallow one of its planets.
Evidence for this event was detected in a "long, low-energy" explosion from a Milky Way star about 13,000 light-years from Earth.
According to the study published in the journal Nature, while in the past there have been signs of the consequences of similar phenomena, astronomers had never caught a star red-handed in the act of devouring a planet.
This galactic "meal" took place between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago near the constellation Aquila, and at that "time" the star was about 10 billion years old.
Eventually, when the gas giant sank into the star, there was a flare-up, a sudden burst of warm light, followed by a stream of dust that shone long in the infrared, the researchers explained.
For scientists it is a disturbing but plausible preview of what will happen to Earth when the Sun turns into a red giant and swallows our planet along with others with more inner orbit: "If it can be of consolation, this will happen in about 5 billion years," said one of the authors of the study, Morgan MacLeod of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.