Astronomers from Calvin College are predicting that two stars will collide in 2022, setting off a red nova that will be visible from Earth. They also believe the blast will be so bright that people on Earth will be able to witness it without a telescope or binoculars.
This is the first time in history that astronomers are predicting a nova event. If they are right, it will also be the first time they have managed to track a binary star’s death.
“If the prediction is correct, then for the first time in history, parents will be able to point to a dark spot in the sky and say, ‘Watch, kids, there’s a star hiding in there, but soon it’s going to light up,'” said Matt Walhout, a dean at Calvin College, according to Tech Times.
The team first made their discovery by analyzing a star system known as KIC 9832227. As they observed the distant galaxy, they realized that one of the stars they were studying was actually a binary, or two stars surrounding the same system. Not only that, the stars are part of a ‘contact binary,’ which means they are so close together they share a common atmosphere. Researchers also noted that the star looks similar to the way V1309 Scorpii — another contact binary — appeared right before it exploded.
If the collision takes place, it will occur 1,800 light-years away from Earth and last a staggering six months. The blast from the event would be so great, it would increase its own brightness as well as the brightness of the whole system overall.
The prediction is a bold one, but astronomers will be able to learn something regardless of what happens. Even if they are wrong, the team will still have years of observations that will be useful for future research. However, they believe their calculations are correct and will continue to monitor KIC 9832227 over the next five years to get a better understanding of the events leading up to the nova.
“At this point we have now made over 33,000 images of the star with Calvin College telescopes on more than 170 nights of observing,” said Larry Molnar, an astronomer at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, according to Vox. “In a sense, that investment is my bet that this is going to be worthwhile.”