Don’t Panic, But A Lot of Stars Seem to Eat Their Own Planets

By Robin George Andrews | Scientific American |

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN - Is our solar system quotidian or quirky? It’s one of the greatest questions in astronomy, and scientists are getting a little bit of a handle on it as they examine the more than 5,500 exoplanets (and counting) discovered around other stars. Reaching an answer is, however, confounded by a rather dramatic problem: certain stars eat their own planets, which makes learning what counts as “normal” for planetary systems a little troublesome.

Now, if a new study published today in Nature is to be believed, planetary engulfment may be less of a glitch and more of a given of the cosmos.

“The signals we see are really strong,” says Yuan-Sen Ting, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University and one of the study’s authors. The team’s finding of 8 percent is probably the lower limit; weaker, harder-to-confirm signals of planetary engulfment may be present, too.

Astronomers have previously studied co-natal stellar twins to spot voracious stars on planet-based diets—but never so robustly. The study “ties so many things together. It’s really cool,” says Stephen Kane, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not part of the research.

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