For the first time in history astronomers have witnessed a star devouring a planet, a new study published in the Astronomical Journal reports.
This discovery comes from a team of international scientists who used NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory to capture the event, which took place 450 light years from Earth.
They believe a large star known as RW Aur A swallowed a pair of newborn planets that smashed into each other before collapsing down into the fiery body’s rotating disk.
The team first took note RW Aur A some 80 years ago. Since that time, they have noted that it sits in the constellation Taurus-Auriga and is part of a binary system with another star that weighs as much as the sun.
However, what makes it particularly interesting is that it goes through a pattern where it dims for extended periods of time before slowly brightening again.
To explain its recent dimming, the team in the new study took a closer look at the star. They found that it may have gotten blocked by a thick cloud of gas and dust created by two planets smashing together and then falling into the star. That would have blocked out its light.
While computer models have long predicted that young stars can devour planets, this is the first scientists have observed such an event.
“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,” said lead author Hans Moritz Guenther, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to Tech Times.
This new information is important because, not only does it mark a never-before-seen event, it could explain previous dimming episodes as well. For example, if two planets or the remains of past collisions crashed into each other it may have created debris that spun off on rogue orbits.
The new finding marks a brand new phenomenon. Researchers hope they can shed more light on it in the future.
“Computer simulations have long predicted that planets can fall into a young star, but we have never before observed that,” added Guenther, according to Science Daily. “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.”