Rare Binary Star Explosion Will Ignite the Sky in 2022

Wednesday, 29 November 2017 - 11:42AM
Astronomy
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 - 11:42AM
Rare Binary Star Explosion Will Ignite the Sky in 2022
Image credit: NASA
Take a moment to remind yourself of one of the most iconic moments in the history of science fiction.

Luke Skywalker, frustrated and trapped by his mediocre life on his uncle's farm, stares up at the sunset, as a pair of binary stars sink down below the horizon. To this day, it's a powerful piece of cinema, sending shivers down the spine of anyone who's ever found themselves wishing for freedom from a mundane existence.

Imagine how different the scene would have been if the binary sunset had also been accompanied by the two stars exploding in a ball of fiery death.

If this somewhat more startling version of the scene appeals to you, there'll soon be an opportunity to act it out yourself, when the night's sky here on Earth will play host to a particularly bright celestial event, as two stars just like the ones that illuminate Tatooine will finally finish being sucked into each others' orbits, as they explode together in a beautiful flash of light.



In a recent presentation to the 229th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, researchers from Calvin College in Michigan have announced two binary stars will explode in 2022, merging together before exploding. According to the presentation, this sight will be so spectacular that it'll be easily visible from Earth, even for those who are simply looking with the naked eye.

The binary system, known as KIC 9832227, has been on scientists' radars since 2013, when astronomers noted that what they thought was a single star seemed to be fluctuating in brightness.

Soon, it was discovered that KIC 9832227 was not one, but two stars, locked in such a close orbit around each other that they even share an atmosphere. Since then, astronomers have been fascinated with the pair, as they've watched them slowly spiral together into what will soon become a beautiful if incredibly deadly embrace.

Similar binary star merger and explosions have been viewed in the past, which give scientists a pretty good idea of what to expect when KIC 9832227 goes boom. The prediction of this explosion is significant from a research perspective, as it gives scientists plenty of warning, during which they can make sure that they're in a position to collect far more data from the event than would normally be possible.

Perhaps one of the best things about this particular binary star system is the history behind the team that are examining it. According to Professor Lawrence Molnar, who has led the study over the past four years:

Opening quote
"Most big scientific projects are done in enormous groups with thousands of people and billions of dollars. This project is just the opposite. It's been done using a small telescope, with one professor and a few students looking for something that is not likely. Nobody has ever predicted a nova explosion before. Why pay someone to do something that almost certainly won't succeed? It's a high-risk proposal. But at Calvin it's only my risk, and I can use my work on interesting, open-ended questions to bring extra excitement into my classroom. Some projects still have an advantage when you don't have as much time or money."
Closing quote


It's nice to be reminded that scientific discovery doesn't necessarily need to come from large bodies with masses of funding. Anyone with a telescope and an eagerness to learn can make an important contribution to our understanding of the universe, so long as they're willing to put in the hours necessary to make a passion project pay off.

While there's still a long wait before KIC 9832227 starts looking less like Tatooine and more like the Death Star after a visit from a proton torpedo, the 2022 event will definitely be worth watching out for.

It's not every day that Luke Skywalker's home planet get blown up—no doubt, considering his disdain for binary sunshine, the Jedi Master himself would be at least a little pleased by this turn of events.
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Rare Binary Star Explosion Will Ignite the Sky in 2022
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