In a study appearing today in Nature, scientists at MIT, Harvard University, Caltech, and elsewhere report that they have observed a star swallowing a planet, for the first time.
The planetary demise appears to have taken place in our own galaxy, some 12,000 light-years away, near the eagle-like constellation Aquila. There, astronomers spotted an outburst from a star that became more than 100 times brighter over just 10 days, before quickly fading away. Curiously, this white-hot flash was followed by a colder, longer-lasting signal. This combination, the scientists deduced, could only have been produced by one event: a star engulfing a nearby planet.
“We were seeing the end-stage of the swallowing,” says lead author Kishalay De, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.