For the first time, scientists observe "devouring of planet" by young star
It will take further study to confirm the star's iron influx came from a planet or two, but the initial theory is quite compelling.
The star, named RW Aur A and located in the Taurus-Auriga constellation, is a few million years old; it’s been watched and studied by astronomers since before World War II—1937, in fact.
The light from this star has dimmed periodically over the last 80 years for as long as a month, according to NASA.
The phenomenon has became much more frequent since 2011, causing scientists to pay even more attention to the star; the Chandra X-ray Observatory and telescope, highly sensitive to x-rays, began to be focused much more on it since then in an effort to collect enough data to figure out what was happening.
And that’s when the light bulb came on. Specifically, the detection of a high quantity of iron around the star; this was a new phenomenon, when compared with the same star in 2013, and the best possible solution is that a planet—perhaps more than one—collided with the star and was swallowed up by it. The dust, rocks, particles, and gas remaining would explain the dimming effect.
This artist’s illustration depicts the destruction of a young planet or planets, which scientists may have witnessed for the first time using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Credits: Illustration: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss; X-ray spectrum: NASA/CXC/MIT/H. M.Günther
“Computer simulations have long predicted that planets can fall into a young star, but we have never before observed that. 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 Hans Moritz Guenther, research scientist at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Guenther headed up the study.
There’s a second theory that is also plausible, though less favored: The star’s sister, RW Aur B, may in fact pass close enough to RW Aur A that the latter actually rips particles of iron from the disk that surrounds the former. As NASA explained:
“RW Aur A is located in the Taurus-Auriga Dark Clouds, which host stellar nurseries containing thousands of infant stars. Very young stars, unlike our relatively mature sun, are still surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and clumps of material ranging in size from small dust grains to pebbles, and possibly fledgling planets. These disks last for about 5 million to 10 million years.”
This second theory holds that within those clumps of material are iron particles, and they are jarred loose by the gravitational forces of RW Aur B passing by.
It’s not settled yet; future efforts will continue building data from Chandra, as well as compare data from the multiple decades that the star has been studied to see if there are clues about planet-eating, collisions, or perhaps something else entirely.
And if the thought of a planet-eater made you think of Star Trek: The Doomsday Machine, well, you’re in good company.
Lumina Foundation is partnering with Big Think to unearth the next large-scale, rapid innovation in post-high school education. Enter the competition here!
Good science is sometimes trumped by the craving for a "big splash."
- Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
- This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
- On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.
Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.
Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.
Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.
Two space agencies plan missions to deflect an asteroid.
- NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together on missions to a binary asteroid system.
- The DART and Hera missions will attempt to deflect and study the asteroid Didymoon.
- A planetary defense system is important in preventing large-scale catastrophes.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.