MELBOURNE, FLA. — An international consortium of scientists, including Florida Institute of Technology astronomer Terry Oswalt, Ph.D., have discovered a
planet similar to Earth that has survived a star’s red giant phase. This finding, and what it may mean for our own planet when the Sun becomes a red giant
a billion years from now, is detailed in the Sept. 13 issue of Nature.
Stars like the Earth’s own Sun become red giants when the hydrogen in their cores runs out. As they expand, the inner planets are engulfed, meaning that
Mercury and Venus will almost certainly be incinerated and become part of the Sun. Earth is believed to lie just inside the maximum size the Sun will reach
when it becomes a red giant, so its future status was assumed to be the same as Mercury and Venus until this discovery.
“This is the first planet to be discovered that almost certainly has survived being swallowed up during the red giant stage of its host star,” said Oswalt.
“Astronomers who want to predict the future of our solar system will have to include a planet Earth that survives to the very end.”
Oswalt cautioned that just because the Earth will survive, one shouldn’t make long-term plans to enjoy the view.
“This planet survived, but it was completely sterilized in the process. If humanity still exists in a billion years, our descendents will be moving to the
moons of Jupiter for survival purposes. By then, the climate on, say, Europa will be similar to Earth now.”
To read more, go to www.nature.com/nature. Lead author on the article is Roberto Silvotti, Istituto Nazionale de Astrofisica, Naples, Italy.