MAR 25, 2024 3:25 PM PDT

Planetary Ingestion Unveiled: Twin Stars Devouring Planets Revealed

Can stars eat planets? This is what a recent study published in Nature hopes to address as a team of international researchers led by ASTRO 3D researchers investigated how some pairs of twin stars possess different compositions, which contradicts longstanding theories that they should possess similar compositions, hence the same twin stars. However, astronomers now hypothesize the compositional differences could be due to one of the twin stars devouring planets that orbit them. This study holds the potential to help astronomers better understand the formation and evolution of planetary systems and the mechanisms behind them, as well.

For the study, the team used a combination of the 6.5-meter Magellan Telescope, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, and the 10-meter Keck Telescope to collect data on 91 twin stars to ascertain their chemical compositions, and specifically the similarity of their compositions. In the end, the team discovered that approximately eight percent (7-8 twin stars) exhibited differences in their compositions, with the team hypothesizing that this was due to one of the stars ingesting one of their orbiting planets. Additionally, they found that the differing pairs were all main sequence stars, meaning they’re average-aged and conducting their fusion at their full potential. For context, our Sun is a main sequence star.

Artist’s illustration of a rocky planet being devoured by a twin star. (Credit: intouchable, ©OPENVERSE)

“We looked at twin stars travelling together. They are born of the same molecular clouds and so should be identical,” said Dr. Fan Liu, who is an ASTRO 3D Researcher and Research Fellow at Monash University and lead author of the study. “Thanks to this very high precision analysis, we can see chemical differences between the twins. This provides very strong evidence that one of the stars has swallowed planets or planetary material and changed its composition.”

Going forward, this study could help astronomers gain better insight into the chemical link between stars and planets and help shed new light on planetary formation and evolution, as well.

What new discoveries will researchers make about twin stars digesting their planets in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Nature, Science in Public, EurekAlert!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of "Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey".
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