An article appearing in the New Scientist magazine entitled, “Stars that devour their planets get brighter and faster” highlights the research of Melinda Soares-Furtado, and Matteo Cantiello. Melinda is a fourth-year graduate student in Astrophysics and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Matteo is a visiting associate scholar at Princeton from the Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) at the Flatiron Institute of New York.
The article focuses on the collaborative work of three astrophysicists: Research lead, Morgan MacLeod (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Matteo Cantiello (CCA and Princeton University) and Melinda Soares-Furtado (Princeton University). Together they authored the paper, ‘Planetary Engulfment in the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram’. Their research efforts focus on the characteristics observed in stars when they begin to die: They explore one method of planet destruction known as engulfment, whereby a planet is consumed by the host star.
Imagine the sun inflating up to 100 times in size as it evolves and in so doing engulfs the planet Mercury. This phenomenon raises interesting questions such as: “Would this luminosity signature rival the luminosity of the star itself?”; “Would such an occurrence for a nearby star be visible by telescopes on Earth?”; and “What if instead, Mercury was as massive as Jupiter?” These are the important questions the paper’s co-authors explored in their work and discovered that indeed such phenomena should be visible for massive planets located very close to their host stars.
The next phase of their research will study how an engulfment event, if not caught in action, might be visible after the fact. They will seek answers to questions such as, “How long would chemical enrichment last and what would the chemical signature look like?” and “How long would the rotation rate be impacted and to what degree?”