A predicted collision of two stars may just give us a spectacular show in the year 2022. A thorough observation that began in 2013 led Larry Molnar, a Calvin College Professor, along with his students and his colleagues Karen Kinemuchi and Henry Kobulnicky to predict that a binary star is most likely going to collide and explode into a red nova in 2022, give or take a year.
What's more, the brightness of the event will allow even non-astronomers to see this once in a lifetime event even without the aid of telescopes or binoculars since it is expected to be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. This is the very first time that astronomers are predicting a nova event.
A Brief Look At The Exploration That Led To The Prediction
Molnar and his colleagues' journey with the star system called KIC 9832227 began as they observed the star's odd behavior and discovered that the star they were observing was actually a binary, which means that they are two stars surrounding the same system.
In fact, further observation showed they are not just binaries, but they are what is called a "contact binary." The two stars are so close to each other that they are sharing a common atmosphere.
This discovery reminded them of the events that unfolded prior to the sudden explosion of V1309 Scorpii, as the records show that it, too, was a contact binary. Further, their observations on the behavior of KIC 9832227 follows the pattern of events before the 2008 Scorpii red nova.
Should this prediction prove accurate, then astronomers are tracking the process of a binary star's death for the first time. In addition, they still have years of lead observation and documentation time that will likely be useful in future research.
What Will The Explosion Look Like?
"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.
The collision of the contact binary is 1,800 light-years away from Earth and is expected to last 6 months. If the prediction proves accurate, it is projected to release a massive amount of energy that will increase its brightness by up to 1,000 times. It will also increase the brightness of the system, to match the brightness of Polaris, as it lies in the constellation Cygnus.
Experts believe that, if and when the collision occurs, the aftermath could look similar to the V838 Monocerotis. It is still unclear whether the Monocerotis is a red nova, but its qualities classify it is the class "novae" and the red hue of the surrounding light makes it especially unique.
When the Monocerotis exploded in 2002, it became temporarily 600,000 times brighter than our sun, and it is currently one of the brightest start in the Milky Way. The animation below is a compression of 4 years of Hubble's photos of the Monocerotis V838.
"If the star can completely merge, it can release as much energy as the sun would release in its entire lifetime," said Molnar.