For the first time, scientists have caught a star in the act of swallowing a planet — not just a nibble or bite, but one big gulp.
Astronomers on Wednesday reported their observations of what appeared to be a gas giant around the size of Jupiter or bigger being eaten by its star. The sun-like star had been puffing up with old age for eons and finally got so big that it engulfed the close-orbiting planet.
It’s a gloomy preview of what will happen to Earth when our sun morphs into a red giant and gobbles the four inner planets.
“If it’s any consolation, this will happen in about 5 billion years,” said co-author Morgan MacLeod of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
This galactic feast happened between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago near the Aquila constellation when the star was around 10 billion years old. As the planet went down the stellar hatch, there was a swift hot outburst of light, followed by a long-lasting stream of dust shining brightly in cold infrared energy, the researchers said.