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Planet-Swallowing Star Eats For Two

Jun 02, 2014 04:54 PM EDT

Have you ever ordered a dinner for two... for just yourself? Apparently, the growing star Kepler-56 is doing just that. Astronomers have determined that Kepler-56 will be swallowing two of its orbiting planets whole as it becomes a red giant.

"As far as we know, this is the first time two known exoplanets in a single system have a predicted 'time of death,'" Gongjie Li of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) said in a recent statement.

According to a recent study authored by Li, the planets Kepler-56c and Kepler-56b are scheduled to become star snacks in the next 130 million and 150 million years, respectively.

These findings were presented in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

According to Li, 150 million years is a remarkably short amount of time in solar life years. For perspective, the Sun is set to expand into a red giant, swallowing Mercury and Venus in an estimated five billion years.

And while we certainly won't be around to witness the Kepler-56 phenomenon for ourselves, Li explains that the star - which has already swollen to four times the size of the Sun - will expand until its heated surface is so close to its orbiting planets that thier atmospheres will begin to literally boil off. The planets themselves will then start to become elongated ovals as intense gravity and "stellar tides" morph their structure.

What comes next is obviously a dinner for two, where first 56c and then 56b will becoming part of Kepler-56's ever-growing mass.

"The only survivor in the system will be Kepler-56d, a gas giant planet circling in a 3.3-Earth-year orbit. It will watch from a safe distance as its two sibling worlds meet their demise," a Harvard-Smithsonian press release reports.

Stars generally spend about one billion years as Red Giants before collapsing in on themselves, according to When the shrinking helium shell of a dying star reaches its core, an explosion ensues, leaving either a white dwarf or triggering an impressive supernova (for larger stars).

Because these findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is recommended that they be viewed as preliminary.

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