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Young Star RZ Piscium Eats Its Own Planets

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Researchers of a new study believe that the dimming episodes of RZ Piscium may be evidence that the young star devoured one or more planets surrounding it. Is RZ Piscium a planet eater?

'Winking' Star

The vast cosmos is home to countless stars, and one of them is RZ Piscium. It is a relatively young star that's 550 million light-years away from Earth, tucked away in the Pisces constellation. A notable characteristic of RZ Piscium is that the star "winks" or has unpredictable dimming episodes, some lasting as long as two days but each time making the star 10 times dimmer than its usual bright self.

So far, evidence suggests that RZ Piscium is surrounded by large quantities of dust. This suggests that the star is fairly young with a dense asteroid belt surrounding it. However, another possibility that researchers are looking into is that perhaps RZ Piscium is an old star that's preparing itself to become a red giant and that the dust is evidence of devoured planets as the star is growing larger.

Researchers now suggest that it could be both, but how can that be? According to a new paper published in The Astronomical Journal, the dimming episodes of RZ Piscium may be a result of gas and dust from its devoured planets, but not because it is already turning into a red giant.

Planet-Eating Young Star

Using the European Space Agency's (ESA) XMM-Newton Satellite, researchers gathered 11 hours of RZ Piscium observations and found that the star produces an X-ray output that is 1,000 times greater than our own sun. What's more, they also surmise that the star still has a considerable amount of lithium. Both of these are things that should have decreased with age.

This suggests that the star is fairly young at just 30 to 50 million years old or just 1 percent of our sun's age. However, its age is neither young enough to be surrounded by planet-building dust nor old enough to be devouring planets on its journey to becoming a red giant. So what is it?

According to researchers, perhaps the best explanation for the cloud of dust around RZ Piscium is that it could be the aftermath of a planetary disaster wherein there might have been a relatively recent massive collision of two planetary objects near the star, or that the star stripped off the material of a nearby planet as it was pulled into the star's gravity.

"The fact that RZ Piscium hosts so much gas and dust after tens of millions of years means it's probably destroying, rather than building, planets," said Ben Zuckerman of the University of California, Los Angeles, coauthor of the paper.

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