Astronomers Get A Glimpse Of The Apocalypse As Star Eats Its Planet
Astronomers have caught a star in the act of swallowing a planet whole - the first time such an event has been witnessed. The sun-like star, called ZTF SLRN-2020, lies about 12,000 light-years away in our galaxy and is thought to have engulfed a hot gas giant about the size of Jupiter. The event gives a clue as to what will befall the Earth one day as scientists already knew that older stars will, as they puff up with age, ultimately ingest their inner orbiting planets. Our own sun is predicted to do so in 5 billion years, consuming Mercury, Venus, and likely Earth. But nobody had seen direct evidence for such a remarkable scenario until now. The star was spotted by Zwicky Transient Facility, or ZTF, an instrument that scans the skies every night from Caltech's Samuel Oschin Telescope. "The confirmation that sun-like stars engulf inner planets provides us with a missing link in our understanding of the fates of solar systems, including our own," says lead author Kishalay De. Like other older stars, the star had begun to expand in size as it aged, bringing it closer to the orbiting planet. As the planet skimmed the surface of the star, it pulled hot gas off the star that then drifted outward and cooled, forming dust. In addition, material from the disintegrating planet blew outward, also forming dust. The planet plunged into the core of the star and got swallowed whole. As it was doing this, energy was transferred to the star.