Friday, December 27, 2013

Doomed Planet Foreshadows Earth's Fate

A group of astronomers that includes Amelia Bayo and Luigi Mancini of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has found a doomed planet that within 55 million years – a mere blink of the eye on astronomical scales – will be swallowed whole by its host star.

The evolution of planetary systems is intimately linked to the evolution of their host star. Our understanding of the whole planetary evolution process is based on the large planet diversity observed so far. To date, only few tens of planets have been discovered orbiting stars ascending the Red Giant Branch. Although several theories have been proposed, the question of how planets die remains open due to the small number statistics, making clear the need of enlarging the sample of planets around post-main sequence stars.

Artist's impression of the planet Kepler-91b which will be swallowed by its host star shortly (astronomically speaking).
Credit: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/ David Cabezas Jimeno

This is a fate similar to that facing the earth in roughly 5 billion years. The planet, known as Kepler 91b, is currently orbiting its host star a mere 3 times the radius of the sun. The star, a red giant with a radius currently 6 times that of our sun, will swell to engulf the unhappy satellite.

The team leader is Jorge Lillo of the Center of Astrobiology (CAB) in Madrid. The initial discovery was made with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope based on observations taken in 2009–2012, but the object was only unambiguously identified as a planet when Lillo and his colleagues followed up on the initial observations, using the 2.2m telescope at Calar Alto Observatory in Andalusia. precarious.

Original article (accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics)

Contacts and sources:
Amelia Bayo (co-author)
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

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