At any given moment, you can look up toward the night sky and see constellations and planets. But it’s not often you can look up and see something new, which is exactly what will happen in 2022.
A team of astronomers at Calvin College say a binary star (two stars orbiting each other) may merge and explode, giving Earth a celestial firework show. When the explosion occurs, the brightness of the star will increase ten thousand fold, according to Phys.org, making it visible to the naked eye.
“It’s a one-in-a-million chance that you can predict an explosion,” said Larry Molnar, a professor at Calvin College. “It’s never been done before.”
Molnar first began observing the star known as KIC 983227 in 2013, when astronomer Karen Kinemuchi presented a study that revealed the star’s brightness had been changing. The next step was to figure out whether the star was simply pulsing or if it was binary.
Thanks to Calvin college student Daniel Van Noord, Molnar’s research assistant, we now know that it’s binary.
“Van Noord looked at how the color of the star correlated with brightness and determined it was definitely a binary,” Molnar said. “In fact, he discovered it was actually a contact binary, in which two stars share a common atmosphere, like two peanuts sharing a single shell.”
Look for the explosion in 2022, give or take a year
The explosion will merely be a speck to stargazers back here on Earth, but it’s cool that we’ll actually get to see a change in the night sky. According to Phys.org, when the star explodes, it will be visible as part of the constellation Cygnus.
“If the star can completely merge, it can release as much energy as the sun can release in its entire lifetime,” Molnar said.