Astronomers find sun-like star that ate its own planets

"We assume that once stars are born, their chemistries are fixed," said researcher Adrian Price-Whelan. "This is yet more evidence of stars changing."
By Brooks Hays  |  Oct. 12, 2017 at 5:09 PM
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Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Astronomers have discovered a faraway star with an unrelenting hunger for rocky planets. According the analysis of the star's chemical commotion, the sun-like stellar system has swallowed enough rocky planets to equal 15 Earths.

"Even if our sun ate the entire inner solar system, it wouldn't come close to the anomaly we see in this star," David Hogg, head of astronomical data at the Flatiron Institute's Center for Computational Astrophysics, said in a news release.

Scientists named the planet-eating star Kronos, a nod to the Greek Titan who ate all of his children after they were born.

Lead researcher Semyeong Oh, an astrophysicist at Princeton University, didn't set out to find a planet-eating star. She was using observations by the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft to study stellar duos traveling along similar trajectories and at similar speeds -- stars likely to originate from a common star-forming regions be forged of the same material.

But Oh's chemical analysis of the two stars' innards revealed a significant dichotomy. The chemistry of the two members of the binary star system proved to be quite different.

"We started discussing what could make two stars that must have been born together have such different chemistry now," Oh said.

Kronos, unlike its stellar sibling Krios, featured high concentrations of iron, silicon, magnesium and lithium, all elements that makeup rocky planets.

Because the heavy metals are found in Kronos' outer layers, astronomers surmise the star consumed the rock planets more than a billion years after the star was born.

The findings could help astronomers better understand how stellar systems evolve over time.

"We assume that once stars are born, their chemistries are fixed," said researcher Adrian Price-Whelan. "This is yet more evidence of stars changing."

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