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Tuesday, April 23 2024
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1 in 12 Stars May Have Swallowed a Planet: Study

Stars
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According to Space.com, a recent study indicates that a startling number of stars—possibly one in twelve—may have at some point in their lives consumed a planet.

Researchers have previously discovered evidence of peculiar element compositions in a few stars, suggesting that these stars may be consumed by planets. By studying “co-natal” stars—twins born from the same cloud of gas and dust—this new study supports that theory. Since the makeup of these twins should be almost identical, any notable chemical differences could indicate a dramatic event, such as a planet being swallowed by a star.

The research team used data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite to identify 91 pairs of co-natal stars. They then analysed the light from these stars using powerful telescopes to determine their elemental compositions.

The analysis revealed a surprising fact: in about 8% of the pairs, one star showed signs of having engulfed a planet, displaying a different chemical makeup compared to its twin.

“What’s truly surprising is the frequency at which it seems to happen,” study co-author Yuan-Sen Ting, an astronomer at the Australian National University in Canberra, told Space.com. “It implies that stable planetary systems like our own solar system might not be the norm. This gives us a deeper perspective on our place in the universe.”

While our Sun is expected to engulf some planets when it becomes a red giant in the distant future, this study focused on stars in their prime. This implies planetary ingestion might be a more frequent occurrence during a star system’s normal lifespan. One possibility is that rogue planets, ejected from their own systems, could collide with other stars.

The results imply that many planetary systems may be less stable than previously thought, with planets possibly ejecting themselves arbitrarily. There’s no urgent need to worry, though, as the researchers reassure us that our solar system appears stable on a human timescale.

A few questions remain after the study’s March 20 publication in the journal Nature. Whether stars are consuming fully developed planets or are they just consuming the leftover components of planets during their formation remains unclear. This detail might become clearer with further research.

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