Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
In 2002, the Hubble Space Telescope V838 observed Monocerotis, a suspected red nova.
Enlarge / In 2002, the Hubble Space Telescope V838 observed Monocerotis, a suspected red nova.

NASA

Astronomers studying a binary star system about 1,800 light-years from the sun say they are increasingly confident that the two stars will merge into a luminous red nova within about five years. At its brightest, the spectacular explosion caused by this nova could reach an apparent magnitude of about 2.0, comparable to a bright star in the night sky, making it visible even from most urban areas.

The team of astronomers, led by Calvin College’s Lawrence Molnar, presented their findings late last week at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas. The researchers have been studying the binary star system, KIC 9832227, since the year 2013, after noticing that the stars were getting closer together.

Based on previous observations of another merging binary star system, V1309 Scorpii, the astronomers made predictions about the timing and distance between the two stars in the KIC 9832227 system as they spiral toward each other. Then, in 2015, the astronomers made observations that matched their exponential graph of light curves and orbital velocities. “The fusion hypothesis has had predictive power and we currently have no alternative explanation for the timing behavior,” the authors state.

The stars of KIC 9832227 already share an atmosphere. Based on their existing data and projections for further system collapse, the astronomers now predict a nova visible to the naked eye in the year 2022, plus or minus seven months. Such fusions typically produce reddish light, and as the visible light fades, the remnant’s infrared light brightens and lasts much longer. Further observations of the system in the coming years should yield better estimates of timing and brightness.

By akfire1

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