X-ray data potentially reveals first evidence of a star devouring a planet

Researchers might have discovered the first evidence of a star, RW Aur A, devouring a planet.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 19, 2018
A team of physicists might have just discovered the first-ever evidence of a star devouring a planet. The evidence would explain its most recent dimming event: the crash of two young planetary bodies that created debris that fell into the star, RW Aur A.

"Computer simulations have long predicted that planets can fall into a young star, but we have never before observed that," said Hans Moritz Guenther, a research scientist from MIT who led the study. "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."

The team believes the star's previous dimming events could have been caused by similar collisions, of either remnants of past collisions that crashed into each other or the collision of two planetary bodies.

"It's speculation, but if you have one collision of two pieces, it's likely that afterward they may be on some rogue orbits, which increases the probability that they will hit something else again," Guenther said.

"There are many processes that happen in young stars, but these two scenarios could possibly make something that looks like what we observed," he said.

Regardless, Guenther hopes to continue making observations of the star.

"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," he said.

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