For the first time ever, scientists have observed a star swallowing a planet whole.
About 10,000-15,000 years ago, an aging Sun-like star engulfed a planet about the size of Jupiter as it expanded. Now, thousands of years later, astronomers were able to observe the spectacular galactic event, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Using data from CalTech’s Palomar Observatory and NASA’s NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer) spacecraft, researchers were able to capture the light emitted as the star ate the planet.
“This type of event has been predicted for decades, but until now we have never actually observed how this process plays out,” Kishalay De, the study’s lead author, stated, per NASA.
The researchers’ observation also gives a look into what could happen when our Sun eventually expands, consuming nearby planets, according to a video posted to twitter by Caltech.
Our own sun will consume Mercury, Venus, and likely Earth in much the same way that we see this star consuming its nearby planet (but we've got about 5 billion years until that happens!). pic.twitter.com/a30HaDyc2H— Caltech (@Caltech) May 3, 2023
“If it’s any consolation, this will happen in about 5 billion years,” Morgan MacLeod of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and co-author of the study told The Associated Press.