Giant Star Caught Devouring Planet
A similar fate awaits Earth, scientists say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2012 11:31 PM CDT
Updated Aug 22, 2012 3:28 AM CDT
An artist's impression of a red giant star consuming a planet.   (NASA)

(Newser) – Astronomers observing the Perseus constellation have caught a glimpse of the fate that awaits our own planet: digestion inside a giant star. Unusual amounts of lithium were detected inside the elderly red giant BD+48 740, and a surviving planet has shifted to a strange elliptical orbit, leading researchers to conclude that the star recently devoured a Jupiter-sized planet in its solar system, the BBC reports. Rising temperatures cause red giants, which our sun will someday become, to expand and devour nearby planets.

"A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth's orbit some 5 billion years from now," says study co-author Alexander Wolszczan, who helped discover the first planets outside our solar system. His team is now searching for planets orbiting red giants, but they haven't found many—possibly because most of them have already been swallowed by their suns.