Chandra may have first evidence of a young star devouring planet

This discovery gives insight into the processes affecting the survival of infant planets.


Out of the blue, scientists have detected the destruction of a young planet or planets around a nearby star. This revelation gives an understanding of the procedures influencing the survival of infant planets.

Scientists made this observation by using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The data suggest that parent star is now in the process of devouring the planetary debris.

They might find that the reason behind the star’s most recent dimming event: a collision of two infant planetary bodies, including at least one object large enough to be a planet. As the subsequent planetary debris fell into the star, it would create a thick cover of residue and gas, briefly clouding the star’s light.

Its been around a century that scientists are keen to know more about the variability of a young star named RW Aur A, located about 450 light years from Earth. In recent years, space experts have watched the star diminishing all the more much of the time, and for longer periods.

Hans Moritz Guenther, a research scientist in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research who led the study said, “Computer simulations have long predicted that planets can fall into a young star, but we have never before observed that. If our interpretation of the data is correct, this would be the first time that we directly observe a young star devouring a planet or planets.”

According to Scientists, star’s previous dimming events may have been caused by similar smash-ups, of either two planetary bodies or large remnants of past collisions that met head-on and broke apart again.

RW Aur A is located in the Taurus-Auriga Dark Clouds, which host stellar nurseries containing thousands of infant stars. Very young stars, unlike our relatively mature sun, are still surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and clumps of material ranging in size from small dust grains to pebbles, and possibly fledgling planets. These disks last for about 5 million to 10 million years.

RW Aur A is estimated to be several million years old and is still surrounded by a disk of dust and gas. This star and its binary companion star, RW Aur B, are both about the same mass as the sun.

The noticeable dips in the optical brightness of RW Aur A that occurred every few decades each lasted for about a month. Then, in 2011, the behavior changed. The star dimmed again, this time for about six months. The star eventually brightened, only to fade again in mid-2014. In November 2016, the star returned to its full brightness, and then in January 2017 it dimmed again.

Chandra was utilized to observe the star amid an optically splendid period in 2013, and after that diminish periods in 2015 and 2017, when a reduction in X-beams was additionally observed.

Since the X-rays originate from the hot external climate of the star, changes in the X-ray range – the force of X-beams estimated at various wavelengths – over these three perceptions were utilized to test the thickness and structure of the retaining material around the star.

The group found that the dunks in both optical and X-beam light are caused by dense gas the star’s light. The perception in 2017 demonstrated solid discharge from iron atoms, showing that the circle contained no less than 10 times more iron than in the 2013 perception amid a brilliant period.

Guenther and colleagues suggest the excess iron was created when two planetesimals, or infant planetary bodies, collided. If one or both planetary bodies are made partly of iron, their smash-up could release a large amount of iron into the star’s disk and temporarily obscure its light as the material falls into the star.

A less favored explanation is that small grains or particles such as iron can become trapped in parts of a disk. If the disk’s structure changes suddenly, such as when the star’s partner star passes close by, the resulting tidal forces might release the trapped particles, creating an excess of iron that can fall into the star.

The scientists hope to make more observations of the star in the future, to see whether the amount of iron surrounding it has changed – a measure that could help researchers determine the size of the iron’s source. For example, if about the same amount of iron appears in a year or two that may indicate it comes from a relatively massive source.

Guenther said, “Much effort currently goes into learning about exoplanets and how they form, so it is obviously very important to see how young planets could be destroyed in interactions with their host stars and other young planets, and what factors determine if they survive.”

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