Humankind has been dreaming of and foretelling various ways our world could end ever since we first learned that there was a world and understood the concept that things can end. From religious apocalypse narratives to today’s scientific predictions of climate change and resource depletion, the world’s cultures love to invent imaginative tales of our planet dying. Current astronomical theories suggest there is some truth in these, as one day our feeble planet will be incinerated when our Sun explodes into a red giant and swallows the Earth whole.
Hopefully, we’ll have gotten our act together and colonized the stars by then – we do have over 4 billion years, after all. There is a chance humankind will have evolved into wholly new forms of life, gone extinct for various reasons, or merged with all-knowing technology and ascended to higher planes of quantum existence, a fanciful and popular dream I like to call the Nerd Rapture.
While we don’t know what will become of us once we are swallowed by the Sun, we’ll have a clearer idea of what will at least happen to our planet thanks to the recent discovery of an alien planet being pulled into the heart of its own Sun. The planet has been named KELT-16b and orbits a nearby star, KELT-16. The star is about 1,300 light-years from Earth and is slightly larger than our own Sun.
The doomed planet, KELT-16b, is a “hot Jupiter,” a class of gas giants which orbit their host stars closely. Apparently, it got a little too close over the course of its life because the planet is now being consumed by KELT-16. The researchers believe KELT-16b began its life farther away from KELT-16 but was gradually pulled into its host over time. The temperatures on the planet now soar up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 degrees Celsius), enough to cause liquid titanium oxide to rain down throughout the atmosphere.
In their findings published in The Astronomical Journal, the researchers speculate that the planet is either being evaporated from the star’s energy or being pulled apart by tidal forces, the ‘pulling’ effect of star KELT-16’s immense gravity:
Once KELT-16b had migrated to within a few tens of stellar radii, its orbital dynamics became dominated by tidal force. At such a close distance to its star, it is worth exploring whether KELT-16b may be in danger of either evaporation due to extreme irradiation or disintegration due to extreme tidal forces.
Luckily for voyeuristic planet-death-fetishist astronomers, KELT-16b is a perfect planet to observe due to its short period (time it takes to orbit its star). It takes roughly one day here on Earth for KELT-16b to orbit KELT-16, meaning astronomers get a perfect daily glimpse of the planet backlit by its star. We should all take a good, long look; whatever happens to KELT-16b will likely one day happen to us. I hate surprises.