Binary Stars Form in the Same Nebula But Aren’t Identical. Now We Know Why.

This artist’s impression illustrates a binary pair of giant stars. Despite being born from the same molecular cloud, astronomers often detect differences in binary stars’ chemical compositions and planetary systems. Image Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva (Spaceengine)/M. Zamani

It stands to reason that stars formed from the same cloud of material will have the same metallicity. That fact underpins some avenues of astronomical research, like the search for the Sun’s siblings. But for some binary stars, it’s not always true. Their composition can be different despite forming from the same reservoir of material, and the difference extends to their planetary systems.

New research shows that the differences can be traced back to their earliest stages of formation.

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One in Twelve Stars Ate a Planet

When a star eats a planet, it changes the star's metallicity. New research based on co-natal stars shows that one in twelve stars have eaten at least one planet. Image Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/M. Garlick/M. Zamani

That stars can eat planets is axiomatic. If a small enough planet gets too close to a large enough star, the planet loses. Its fate is sealed.

New research examines how many stars eat planets. Their conclusion? One in twelve stars has consumed at least one planet.

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Three Planets Around this Sunlike Star are Doomed. Doomed!

A distant Sun-like star will leave the main sequence behind, ending its life of fusion. Then it'll expand into a red giant, totally destroying its four planets. Image Credit: fsgregs Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

According to new research we can start writing the eulogy for four exoplanets around a Sun-like star about 57 light years away. But there’s no hurry; we have about one billion years before the star becomes a red giant and starts to destroy them.

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One in Ten Stars Ate a Jupiter (Or Bigger)

This illustration shows a Jupiter-mass exoplanet getting perilously close to its star. Eventually, the star will engulf the planet, something that happens in many stars' lives as they leave the main sequence. Image Credit: C. Carreau / ESA.

In space, cataclysmic events happen to stars all the time. Some explode as supernovae, some get torn apart by black holes, and some suffer other fates. But when it comes to planets, stars turn the tables. Then it’s the stars who get to inflict destruction.

Expanding red giant stars consume and destroy planets that get too close, and a new study takes a deeper look at the process of stellar engulfment.

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