When Stars eat Their Planets, the Carnage can be Seen Billions of Years Later

Artist view of a large planet soon to be devoured by its star. Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI). Science Credit: NASA, ESA, and C. Haswell (The Open University, UK)

The vast majority of stars have planets. We know that from observations of exoplanetary systems. We also know some stars don’t have planets, and perhaps they never had planets. This raises an interesting question. Suppose we see an old star that has no planets. How do we know if ever did? Maybe the star lost its planets during a close approach by another star, or maybe the planets spiraled inward and were consumed like Chronos eating his children. How could we possibly tell? A recent study on the arXiv answers half that question.

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Astronomers Have a New Way to Find Exoplanets in Cataclysmic Binary Systems

Artist’s impression of a cataclysmic variable system as seen from the surface of an orbiting planet Credit Departamento de Imagen y Difusion FIME-UANL/ Lic. Debahni Selene Lopez Morales D.R. 2022 Licence type Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Have you heard of LU Camelopardalis, QZ Serpentis, V1007 Herculis and BK Lyncis? No, they’re not members of a boy band in ancient Rome. They’re Cataclysmic Variables, binary stars that are so close together one star draws material from its sibling. This causes the pair to vary wildly in brightness.

Can planets exist in this chaotic environment? Can we spot them? A new study answers yes to both.

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An Ambitious Plan to Find Earth 2.0

When it comes to astronomy, the more instruments watching the sky, the better. Which is why it has been so frustrating that the world’s rising superpower – China – has long lacked focus on space-science missions. In recent years, with some notable exceptions, China’s space agency has focused on lunar exploration and human spaceflight, as well as some remote monitoring capabilities, leaving the technical know-how of arguably the world’s second more capable country on the sidelines when it comes to collecting space science data. Now, a team led by Jian Ge of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory has suggested the most ambitious Chinese-led space science mission to date. And it plans to search for one of the holy grails of current astronomy research – an exoplanet like Earth.

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Water Worlds Could Have Plumes of Nutrients Carried up From Down Below

This reprocessed colour view of Jupiter’s moon Europa was made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.

Earth’s oceans are one huge, uniform electrolyte solution. They contain salt (sodium chloride) and other nutrients like magnesium, sulphate, and calcium. We can’t survive without electrolytes, and life on Earth might look very different without the oceans’ electrolyte content. It might even be non-existent.

On Earth, electrolytes are released into the oceans from rock by different processes like volcanism and hydrothermal activity.

Are these life-enabling nutrients available on water worlds?

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Using the Sun as a Gravitational Lens Would Let Us See Exoplanets With Incredible Resolution

An artist view of countless exoplanets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Have you ever seen wispy arcs and rings in astronomical images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories? These unusual features are caused by a quirk of nature called gravitational lensing, which occurs when light from a distant object is distorted by a closer massive object along the same line of sight. This distortion effectively creates a giant lens which magnifies the background light source, allowing astronomers to observe objects embedded within those lens-created arcs and rings that are otherwise be too far and too dim to see.

A group of researchers are working on plans to build a spacecraft that could apply this quirk by using our Sun as a gravitational lens. Their goal is to see distant exoplanets orbiting other stars, and to image an Earth-like exoplanet, seeing it in exquisite detail, at a resolution even better than the well-known Apollo 8 Earthrise photo.

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Two New Rocky Planets Discovered Close to the Solar System

An artist's illustration of two newly-discovered super-Earths. They're only 33 light years away and they orbit a red dwarf named HD 260655. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

TESS has struck paydirt again. NASA’s planet-hunting spacecraft has found two new super-Earths orbiting a star only 33 light-years away. These are two of the closest rocky planets ever found.

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There Could Be Four Hostile Civilizations in the Milky Way

This artists’s cartoon view gives an impression of how common planets are around the stars in the Milky Way. The planets, their orbits and their host stars are all vastly magnified compared to their real separations. A six-year search that surveyed millions of stars using the microlensing technique concluded that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. The average number of planets per star is greater than one.

In 1977, the Big Ear Radio Telescope at Ohio State University picked up a strong narrowband signal from space. The signal was a continuous radio wave that was very strong in intensity and frequency and had many expected characteristics of an extraterrestrial transmission. This event would come to be known as the Wow! Signal, and it remains the strongest candidate for a message sent by an extraterrestrial civilization. Unfortunately, all attempts to pinpoint the source of the signal (or detect it again) have failed.

This led many astronomers and theorists to speculate as to the origin of the signal and what type of civilization may have sent it. In a recent series of papers, amateur astronomer and science communicator Alberto Caballero offered some fresh insights into the Wow! Signal and extraterrestrial intelligence in our cosmic neighborhood. In the first paper, he surveyed nearby Sun-like stars to identify a possible source for the signal. In the second, he estimates the prevalence of hostile extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy and the likelihood that they’ll invade us.

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How Do Hot Jupiters Get So Close to Their Stars?

An illustration of a Hot Jupiter orbiting close to its star. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

In this age of exoplanet discovery, we’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets of different types. The hot Jupiter is one of the most unusual types. There’s nothing like it in our Solar System.

Hot Jupiters are massive gas planets, and they attract a lot of attention because they’re so close to their stars and reach blistering temperatures. Their existence spawns a lot of questions about their formation and evolution. A new study is trying to answer some of those questions by determining hot Jupiters’ ages.

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Objects That Share the Same Orbit are Common in the Solar System. But we’ve Never Seen co-Orbital Exoplanets. Why?

“Where are all the Trojans” is a question valid in both the study of ancient history and the study of exoplanets. Trojan bodies, which share orbital paths with other, larger planets, are prevalent in our solar system – most obviously in the Trojan asteroids that follow Jupiter around on its orbital path. However, they seem absent from any star system found with exoplanets. Now, a team of researchers from the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center thinks they have found a reason why.

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The Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey (CHES) Could Detect Exoplanets Within a few Dozen Light-Years of Earth Using Astrometry

Artist's concept of Earth-like exoplanets, which (according to new research) need to strike the careful balance between water and landmass. Credit: NASA

As of this article’s writing, NASA has indicated that 5,030 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,772 systems, with another 8,974 candidates awaiting confirmation. With next-generation instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) coming online, the number and diversity of confirmed exoplanets are expected to grow exponentially. In particular, astronomers anticipate that the number of known terrestrial planets and Super-Earths will drastically increase.

In the coming years, the opportunities for exoplanet studies will increase considerably as thousands more are discovered using various methods. In a recent study, a team led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) described a new space-telescope concept known as the Closeby Habitable Exoplanet Survey (CHES). This proposed observatory will search for Earth-like planets in the habitable zones (HZs) of Sun-like stars within approximately 33 light-years (10 parsecs) using a method known as micro-arcsecond relative astrometry.

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