You’ve heard of deep-fried Twinkies and deep-fried Mars bars?
Well, that’s nothing. How about… Deep Fried Planets!?
Once again, the geeks and nerdlings over at ScienceDaily.com have failed to disappoint.
As they reported last month, “Two Earth-sized planets have been discovered around a dying star that has passed the red giant stage. Because of their close orbits, the planets must have been engulfed by their star while it swelled up to many times its original size.”
Yeah, that’s mighty toasty, for sure.
So hot, in fact, that researchers believed that this unimaginable inferno would make short work of any planet caught in it — until now.
It seems that the two newfound Earth-size planets (named KOI 55.01 and KOI 55.02) are probably the charred survivors of a near-death encounter with their fading parent star, scientists say. They evidently not only survived being engulfed by their parent star, but also may have helped to strip the star of most of its fiery envelope in the process. The team was led by Stephane Charpinet, an astronomer at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, Université de Toulouse-CNRS, in France.
As reported last month in NationalGeographic.com, the planetary pair are about 0.76 and 0.87 times Earth’s radius, making the alien worlds the smallest planets detected so far around an active star, other than our sun. But the planets didn’t start small—astronomers think the worlds were once gas giants, kind of like our Jupiter or Saturn, that were stripped down after being swallowed by their swollen, aging parent.
The new planets orbit a Subdwarf B star called KIC 02697388, which lies about 4,000 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Cygnus. Subdwarf B stars are hot, blue stars that fall between red giants and white dwarfs - the final stage in the life cycles of stars like our sun. When a sunlike star has depleted most of its fuel, it will swell up to become a red giant many hundreds of times its original size. As the red giant star balloons, any planets closest to the star are completely vaporized in the inferno.
Wait a minute. Stars like our sun? Vaporized?? If it could happen way out in the celestial boonies, what’s to stop it from happening a bit closer to home? Like… in our solar system?
Well… nothing, really.
“When our sun swells up to become a red giant, it will engulf the Earth,” said Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Green, an associate astronomer at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, who participated in the research. “If a tiny planet like the Earth spends 1 billion years in an environment like that, it will just evaporate. Only planets with masses very much larger than the Earth, like Jupiter or Saturn, could possibly survive.”
However… The Upcoming Solar Apocalypse is still a bit far down the road (about 5 billion years, give or take) so you don’t need to start stocking up on the sunscreen quite yet.
And that’s a reassuring thought.