An international team of astronomers has discovered the first evidence of a planet being devoured by its aging star. As the star expanded, it eventually swallowed the entire planet, which is similar to what shall happen to Earth in a few billion years.
In approximately five billion years, the inner planets of our solar system, including our home, will be consumed by the aging and expanding sun that will become a red giant. This has been expected for quite some time in the field of astronomy, but now there is actual evidence somewhere else in space, according to a press release.
The evidence indicates that a planet was missing and that it was eaten by its star that expanded into a red giant, identified as BD+48 740. The scientists say the star consists of an irregular elevated quantity of lithium, which is considered quite rare during the Big Bang.
Scientists speculate that the high amount of lithium creation was generated due to a mass the size of a planet that entered the star and then proceeded to heat up during the time of the sun digesting the planet.
Another piece of evidence the team of researchers maintain is the high elliptical orbit of the star’s gigantic planet that was newly discovered, which has been compared to the planet Jupiter. Prior to the missing planet heading into the star it gave a significant portion of energy to the surviving planet.
“We discovered that this planet revolves around the star in an orbit that is only slightly wider than that of Mars at its narrowest point, but is much more extended at its farthest point,” said Alex Wolszczan, an Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University. “Such orbits are uncommon in planetary systems around evolved stars and, in fact, the BD+48 740 planet's orbit is the most elliptical one detected so far.”
Eva Villaver of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain noted that it is extremely atypical to capture a star devouring a planet because of the “swiftness of the process.”
“The highly elongated orbit of the massive planet we discovered around this lithium-polluted red-giant star is exactly the kind of evidence that would point to the star's recent destruction of its now-missing planet,” explained Villaver.
The study, which was also conducted by Monika Adamow, Grzegorz Nowak, and Andrzej Niedzielski of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, was published in an early online edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.