First evidence discovered of planet's destruction by its star

Aug 20, 2012 by Barbara K. Kennedy
The first evidence of a planet's destruction by its aging star has been discovered with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope by an international team of astronomers. A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth's orbit some five-billion years from now. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

(Phys.org) -- The first evidence of a planet's destruction by its aging star has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. The evidence indicates that the missing planet was devoured as the star began expanding into a "red giant" -- the stellar equivalent of advanced age. "A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the Sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth's orbit some five-billion years from now," said Alexander Wolszczan, Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University, who is one of the members of the research team. Wolszczan also is the discoverer of the first planet ever found outside our solar system.

The astronomers also discovered a in a surprisingly elliptical orbit around the same red-giant star, named BD+48 740, which is older than the Sun with a radius about eleven times bigger. Wolszczan and the team's other members, Monika Adamow, Grzegorz Nowak, and Andrzej Niedzielski of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland; and Eva Villaver of the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain, detected evidence of the missing planet's destruction while they were using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to study the aging star and to search for planets around it. The evidence includes the star's peculiar , plus the highly unusual elliptical orbit of its surviving planet.

"Our detailed spectroscopic analysis reveals that this red-giant star, BD+48 740, contains an abnormally high amount of lithium, a rare element created primarily during the Big Bang 14 billion years ago," Adamow said. Lithium is easily destroyed in , which is why its abnormally high abundance in this older star is so unusual. "Theorists have identified only a few, very specific circumstances, other than the Big Bang, under which lithium can be created in stars," Wolszczan added. "In the case of BD+48 740, it is probable that the lithium production was triggered by a mass the size of a planet that spiraled into the star and heated it up while the star was digesting it."

The second piece of evidence discovered by the astronomers is the highly of the star's newly discovered massive planet, which is at least 1.6 times as massive as Jupiter. "We discovered that this planet revolves around the star in an orbit that is only slightly wider than that of Mars at its narrowest point, but is much more extended at its farthest point," Niedzielski said. "Such orbits are uncommon in planetary systems around evolved stars and, in fact, the BD+48 740 planet's orbit is the most elliptical one detected so far." Because gravitational interactions between planets are responsible for such peculiar orbits, the astronomers suspect that the dive of the missing planet toward the star before it became a giant could have given the surviving massive planet a burst of energy, throwing it into an eccentric orbit like a boomerang.

"Catching a planet in the act of being devoured by a star is an almost improbable feat to accomplish because of the comparative swiftness of the process, but the occurrence of such a collision can be deduced from the way it affects the stellar chemistry," Villaver explained. "The highly elongated orbit of the massive planet we discovered around this lithium-polluted red- is exactly the kind of evidence that would point to the star's recent destruction of its now-missing planet."

The paper describing this discovery is posted in an early online edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters (Adamow et al. 2012, ApJ, 754, L15). The is a joint project of the University of Texas at Austin, Penn State University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen, and Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen. The telescope is named in honor of its principal benefactors, William P. Hobby and Robert E. Eberly.

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User comments : 16

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elektron
3.3 / 5 (7) Aug 20, 2012
Looks like the predicted destruction of the Earth in 5 billion years as the sun melts our planet is really going to happen. We're all doomed.
cantdrive85
1.2 / 5 (20) Aug 20, 2012
Silly assumptions based on misunderstood representations of a gravity only universe.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (11) Aug 20, 2012
Stars is an excellent example of that there are more forces than gravity - light from EM interactions, nuclear fusion from strong interaction. Really, standard cosmology has a lot of other forces (inflation, reheating, ionization) than gravity.

Last time it was "a gravity only universe" was, um, never. Biological forces (now known to be chemically produced, so EM) and magnetism (EM) are the oldest recognized forces.
Peter Hent
3 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2012
We're all doomed.


I can't imagine a universe without David Hasselhoff.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 21, 2012
Looks like the predicted destruction of the Earth in 5 billion years as the sun melts our planet is really going to happen. We're all doomed.

Yes. But going around with "the End is near* "-signs is no fun. How are you going to wheedle money out of the caspers with a message like that?

"* by cosmological standards"
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (10) Aug 22, 2012
Stars is an excellent example of that there are more forces than gravity - light from EM interactions, nuclear fusion from strong interaction. Really, standard cosmology has a lot of other forces (inflation, reheating, ionization) than gravity.

Last time it was "a gravity only universe" was, um, never. Biological forces (now known to be chemically produced, so EM) and magnetism (EM) are the oldest recognized forces.


If other forces were really considered on a cosmic scale, fictional entities such as black holes, dark matter, neutron stars (and pulsars), and any number of other ad hoc creations of the standard theory would be laughed at as they should be.
Deathclock
3.9 / 5 (8) Aug 22, 2012
fictional entities such as black holes ... and pulsars


What a fucking idiot /facepalm
cantdrive85
1.3 / 5 (7) Aug 22, 2012
Deathcock, I won't quote your comment since I don't want to be reported, but if you actually believe an entity with the mass of a star can spin as fast as a dentist's drill, your comment is certainly applicable to yourself!

And I won't get into the fact that black holes must violate nearly every known law of physics in order to exist.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Aug 22, 2012
Dental drills have an rpm of up to 800k. The fastest known pulsar merely spins at 60k. And while they are massive they are also very small (about 10-20km diameter) - which puts theor surface speed at around 20% of light speed.
Where does any of this strike you as 'fictional'?

And I won't get into the fact that black holes must violate nearly every known law of physics in order to exist.

Please do. Name one.
Deathclock
3.9 / 5 (7) Aug 22, 2012
Deathcock, I won't quote your comment since I don't want to be reported


lol

Regarding the rest of your post, you are talking about things that have been observed... you realize that right? We predicted what a black hole would "look" like (the effect it would have on light passing around it) long before we found one, and we have since found EXACTLY what we predicted. Pretty damn good evidence.

Pulsars we can see, plainly, they pulse...
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Aug 22, 2012
Pulsars definitely pulse, but the kinetic energy required to cause a solar mass to have 60k rpm, or 20% of the speed of light is nearly infinite and very unlikely. The more likely scenario is that oscillations in pulsars are due to synchronous vibrations in electric circuits that power them and it is electricity stored in double layers that is responsible for their energetic outbursts.

And remember, "It is important to understand that while a theory may permit observations, those observations do not necessarily verify the theory."
Especially one that insists that only gravity can have an effect on light in space when we know that EM fields can readily bend light here on Earth. The number one violation of the laws of physics, in addition to Special Relativity, is the infinite density point-mass singularity (point mass singularity is a mathematical entity, not a real celestial object).
Deathclock
3 / 5 (6) Aug 23, 2012
Pulsars definitely pulse, but the kinetic energy required to cause a solar mass to have 60k rpm, or 20% of the speed of light is nearly infinite


No it is not "nearly infinite" and if you understood the concept of infinity at all you'd realize there is no such thing as "nearly infinite"... 1 is as close to infinite as 1 trillion.

is the infinite density point-mass singularity (point mass singularity is a mathematical entity, not a real celestial object


I agree with this, black holes do not have "infinite density" and they do not have "zero volume"... I never thought they did. You are correct, this is a mathematical construct, what exists in reality may be very close, but I am sure they do in fact have both finite volume and density.
daywalk3r
3.4 / 5 (10) Aug 23, 2012
oscillations in pulsars are due to synchronous vibrations in electric circuits that power them
LOL! Creationism taken to a whole new level!

And I bet my chineese iPhone knockoff that if one day we get more powerful telescopes, we will get to see the "Made in PRC" stickers on them too, right? ;-D

Especially one that insists that only gravity can have an effect on light in space
You should start reading some proper science literature instead of all the sci-fi cra*. I actually even tried to remember one single solid (non-scifi) theory which proposed what you imply, but came out with a blank (o.O)

Read up on constructive/destructive photon interferrence for starters..

And no, it's not gravity that "bends light", neither do "EM fields". The only thing that could be considered to "bend" the apparent path of light, is spacetime curvature. Other processes just absorb/re-emit (re-scatter) it.

And almost forgot: Thanks for the laughs. Really :-)
Shitead
1 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2012
The earth will be swallowed by the sun? Oh no, not again!
In its infancy, Sol became a red giant for a time and swallowed the four inner planets. They were all gas giants and the sun boiled off their atmospheres to leave them the balls of rock we see today. So being swallowed by a star isn't all bad.
Deathclock
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2012
The earth will be swallowed by the sun? Oh no, not again!
In its infancy, Sol became a red giant for a time and swallowed the four inner planets. They were all gas giants and the sun boiled off their atmospheres to leave them the balls of rock we see today. So being swallowed by a star isn't all bad.


Where did you get this nonsense from? I've never heard this idea before, it is certainly not standard cosmology
ralbol
not rated yet Aug 26, 2012
And, we're on track to provide first evidence of planet's destruction by it's inhabitants.