WASHINGTON (AP) – Astronomers may have caught a relatively close star chewing on a planet or miniplanets.
A NASA space telescope noted that the star suddenly looked strange last year. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory discovered on the edge of the only 10 million year old star, a 30-fold increase in iron and a significant blackout.
Astronomers have observed the star in the constellation Taurus – for decades, the iron levels were not high when the Chandra telescope was last viewed in 2015. The star called RW Aur A is 450 light-years away. One light year is 5.9 trillion miles.
Hans Moritz Günther, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he had never seen such a thing and called it "a lot stranger than we thought."
"We have never seen a star that has changed its iron wealth so much " he said.
Günther said that one possible simple explanation is that the star is eating a planet or mini-planet. He looked at other possible explanations, and of the two who make sense, he prefers the planet-eating one. Computer simulations show it can happen, but it's never been seen before, he said.
External experts are careful.
"This could be an exciting discovery, but the evidence is cumbersome and not final" said Harvard Avi Loeb.