Distant Sun-Like Star May Be Devouring Its Own Planets

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RZ Piscium showing erratic behavior (Photo Credit K. Punzi)

RZ Piscium, a star located 550 light-years away in the constellation Pisces, has long intrigued researchers with its strange “winking” behavior. During the erratic episodes, which last as long as two days, the celestial body becomes about ten times dimmer and emits a larger than normal amount of energy at infrared wavelengths, indicating the presence of enormous dust clouds.

Over the years, there have been various theories about the cause of the periodic debris. Some astronomers thought that RZ Piscium is a young sun-like star in the midst of a dense asteroid belt that is prone to frequent collisions, resulting in the dust. Others, however, maintained that RZ Piscium is much older than our 4.6-billion-year-old Sun and is beginning its transition into the red giant stage. They believed that as the aging star was growing, it was destroying planets in the nearby orbits, resulting in the massive amounts of dust.

Illustration of PZ Piscium surrounded by dust clouds ( Photo Credit: NASA.gov video screen capture)

Now, a new study by a team of scientists led by Kristina Punzi, a doctoral student at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), has come up with a more radical explanation. They believe the dust around RZ Piscium is caused by the star devouring its “offspring” — planets in its orbit, similar to the ancient Greek god Kronos who purportedly swallowed his children.

The team began by investigating the star using the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton satellite, the Shane 3-meter telescope at California’s Lick Observatory and the 10-meter Keck I telescope in Hawaii. Their observations revealed that RZ Piscium showed characteristics of both — a young sun-like star and an old red giant. Its X-ray output, about 1,000 times greater than that of our Sun, was a strong indicator of its relative youth. However, RZ Piscium’s surface temperature, about 9,600 degrees Fahrenheit (5,330 degrees Celsius), only slightly cooler than that of our Sun, as well as the lithium level surrounding it, proved the star was between 30 to 50 million years old. According to the scientists, who published their study in The Astronomical Journal on December 21, 2017, this makes RZ Piscium too old to be covered by so much gas and dust.

Illustration of disrupted planets around Z PIscium (Photo Credit: NASA.gov)

Though there is a slight possibility that the dust is the result of the collision of two nearby gaseous planets, the researchers say the evidence suggests a much more gruesome reality. They think the debris is a result of RZ Piscium’s tidal forces, which rips apart and devours orbiting planets that fly too close. “Most Sun-like stars have lost their planet-forming disks within a few million years of their birth," said team member Ben Zuckerman, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "The fact that RZ Piscium hosts so much gas and dust after tens of millions of years means it's probably destroying, rather than building, planets." If true, it will help astronomers better understand the evolution of solar systems, and also explain why some survive and others don’t.

As it turns out, RZ Piscium may not be the only sun guilty of eating its planets. A 2016 study conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, suggests that our Sun may also have gobbled up a nearby planet, dubbed Super-Earth, during the early years of the Solar System.

Resources: NASA.gov,cbc.ca

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Now, a new study by a team of scientists led by Kristina Punzi, a doctoral student at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), has come up with a more radical explanation. 

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374 Comments
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  • CC PuffSaturday, February 24, 2018 at 10:27 am
    #SO_COOL
    • LizzieOMGFriday, February 23, 2018 at 11:49 am
      WHAT IF IT EATS OUR PLANET!!!
      • cocolightbulb
        cocolightbulbFriday, February 23, 2018 at 9:18 am
        This is so cool.
        • atheire
          atheireFriday, February 23, 2018 at 8:54 am
          According to my research, "RZ Piscium is a UX Orionis type variable star 555 light-years away, in the constellation Pisces. Over the years, the star has been found to brighten and dim erratically, dimming by as much as ten-times its usual luminosity." (source: Wikipedia) DOGOnews's answer: Now, a new study by a team of scientists led by Kristina Punzi, a doctoral student at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), has come up with a more radical explanation. They believe the dust around RZ Piscium is caused by the star devouring its “offspring” — planets in its orbit, similar to the ancient Greek god Kronos who purportedly swallowed his children. My answer: I think that maybe RZ Piscium may be going through the Red Giant stage. Spoiler: In the Red Giant stage, the main star (ex: Sun) turns like 1,000 times the size, devours its planets and explodes, and after that, it turns into a white dwarf again (its beginning stage.) Now we have to wonder, what will happen next? Will a new source of planets form, like Kepler-16? Please reply any of your opinions and I will answer in the next 24 hours! Thank you! (づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ
          • dogethefighter
            dogethefighterFriday, February 23, 2018 at 7:39 am
            well that's just great
            • KaitlynFriday, February 23, 2018 at 6:54 am
              SAVE PLANETS!!!
              • KaitlynFriday, February 23, 2018 at 6:54 am
                That is cool!
                • BluemoonFriday, February 23, 2018 at 6:24 am
                  #SAVETHEPLANTES
                  • Mr. BeanThursday, February 22, 2018 at 5:25 pm
                    Wow. That’s cool
                    • ~Angie~Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 5:20 pm
                      SAVE THE PLANETS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!~

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