Red Giant Devours Planet
When an old, massive star reaches the end of its life it can expand into a Red Giant as it burns up the remainder of its energy and eventually dies. For the first time ever, astronomers found evidence of a dying star engulfing a surrounding planet! (Something similar happens in the Star Trek Movie (2009) when the star closest to the planet Romulus goes supernova, destroying the planet.)
As Astronomy Professor, Alex Wolszczan of Penn State and his team were surveying old sun-like stars with exo-planets, they discovered something very unusual in star, BD+48 740, located in the Perseus constellation. (This star is older than our sun and about 11 times larger.) After a detailed spectral analysis of the star to see what it contained, they were surprised to discover a good deal of lithium. This discovery is strange because lithium was mostly formed during the Big Bang, and it doesn’t last very long inside a star. With this evidence the scientists know that the Red Giant must have swallowed a planet.
Their evidence was further supported by the odd elliptical orbit of another planet. “The surviving planet’s orbit suggests the missing planet dived into the star and gave its sibling a boost of energy, kicking it out like a boomerang.”
While this event is not a new theory, the evidence is very special! Normally the process of a star devouring a planet happens so quickly that astronomers wouldn’t have the opportunity to uncover such concrete evidence. It’s amazing what you can find when you have your eye on the sky...