Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Clock is Ticking

So if you're stargazing in 2022, you'll see a bright red spot in the constellation Cygnus. If you don't, it means that Calvin College astronomy professor Lawrence Molnar was wrong.

Molnar's team used images from the space-based telescope Kepler to determine that the object KIC 9832227 was a "contact binary," or two stars that are actually touching. They will merge and create a red nova, which is one of the less explosive kinds of novas that exist in the universe.

The team predicts the actual nova will be visible in 2022 by comparing it to another contact binary that spawned a red nova, V1309 Scorpii. Many of the energy levels and outputs of the new pair match V1309, which had its biggest flare a few years ago. Scientists went back to its earlier images and measurements and developed a time-table for how long it took V1309 to go boom, so Molnar thinks the same pattern will hold for KIC 9832227.

If the prediction is right, then for about 6 months in 2022 Cygnus will have a new bright point of light visible to the naked eye. If it's wrong, pretty much everyone will know. As Molnar says, "You won’t need a telescope in 2022 to tell me if I was wrong or I was right."

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