Astronomers have observed an exoplanet whose orbit is declining to the point of being engulfed by the flames of its host star.
This observation gives information about the slow process of planetary orbital decay. It is the first glimpse at a planet so near its demise due to the decay of its orbit, a press statement reveals.
Scientists state that this also indicates that the Earth could eventually be engulfed by the Sun billions of years from now.
Astronomers will analyze the exoplanet, Kepler-1658b, to test theories about orbital decay and the very late stages of planetary evolution.
“We’ve previously detected evidence for exoplanets inspiraling toward their stars, but we have never before seen such a planet around an evolved star,” explains Shreyas Vissapragada from the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and lead author of a new study detailing the observation. “Theory predicts that evolved stars are very effective at sapping energy from their planets’ orbits, and now we can test those theories with observations.”
The scientists published their findings in a paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Kepler-1658b is a hot Jupiter planet, meaning it naturally has a close orbit to its host star.
It was calculated that Kepler-1658b’s orbital period is decreasing by a massively slow rate of roughly 131 milliseconds (thousandths of a second) per year.
Gauging this minuscule change was made possible after 13 years of observation through the Palomar Observatory’s Hale Telescope in Southern California, and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope, or TESS.
The scientists point out that the orbital decay of Kepler-1658b is caused by tidal forces between the planet and its host star, causing it to slowly travel inward.
“Now that we have evidence of inspiraling of a planet around an evolved star, we can really start to refine our models of tidal physics,” Vissapragada says. “The Kepler-1658 system can serve as a celestial laboratory in this way for years to come, and with any luck, there will soon be many more of these labs.”