In first, astronomers see star engulf planet

Sunday, May 21, 2023 - 14:32 in Astronomy & Space

When a star swallows a planet, does it belch? Leave crumbs? Get bigger? No one could say for sure because no one had witnessed it — until now. Researchers from the Harvard & Smithsonian ǀ Center for Astrophysics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, and other institutions report in a study published today in Nature the first-ever sighting of a star engulfing — and obliterating — a planet. “The majority of them will eventually suffer this fate,” said Morgan MacLeod, speaking of the thousands of planets, including Earth, orbiting other stars. Before stars die, these luminous creatures start to bloat, bulging up to a million times their original size and consuming everything within reach. Luckily, our own sun is stable — for now. But eventually, it too will balloon out, first gulping down Mercury, then Venus, and then Earth. “If it’s any consolation, this will happen in about 5...

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