This month brought exciting space news. A new star will appear in the night sky, in about five years.
An astronomy professor at a small U.S. College, along with some of his students, predicted that an odd type of exploding star called a red nova will appear in our skies in 2022.
It would be the first naked eye nova in decades. And the mechanism behind it is fascinating as well.
This story really begins 10 years ago, when astronomers closely monitored a distant star in Scorpius. This was a double star where the two components were so close together they were actually touching. What was strange is that the orbital period was rapidly decreasing, strongly indicating that the stars might actually merge. Well, it really happened. In 2008, a red nova occurred in that spot, and afterward only one star remained. The two had merged.
Five years earlier, an astronomer predicted that a Red Nova is caused by the merger of stars in a binary system—so the 2008 Scorpius event confirmed that theory. This week’s big news is that it’s happening again.
This time the double star is just off the right wing tip of Cygnus the swan. From the way the orbit is speeding up from the current 11 hours, that Midwestern astronomer predicts they will merge in the year 2022, give or take half a year. It will be another red nova.
Because this star system is 1800 light years away, which is six times closer than that Scorpius star, the nova should be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Feeling the need to exaggerate, some news stories are saying it will be the brightest star in the sky. Most likely, it will be second magnitude, matching the stars of the Big Dipper. Still, this will be amazing, especially if you know enough backyard astronomy to recognize Cygnus’s shape and be excited by a new star that will extend its right wing.
(Since some news stories are saying it’s the Swan’s left wing, let me mention that yes, if you’re the swan it would be your left wing, but for us down below looking at it, it’s the wing on the right side which is the wing closest to the famous bright summer star Vega.)
We’ll watch that spot every night, especially starting four years from now!
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