The collision of two stars will cause an explosion so intense in five years that it will be visible to the naked eye down here on Earth, astronomers say.
Calvin College professor Larry Molnar predicts a binary star (two stars orbiting each other) will merge and explode in 2022, give or take a year. At that time, the single, remaining star will increase its brightness by 10,000 times and become one of the brighter stars in the heavens. The star is roughly 1,800 light-years away.
“It’s a one-in-a-million chance that you can predict an explosion,” Molnar said of his prognostication. “It’s never been done before.”
The star will be visible as part of the constellation Cygnus, and will add a star to the recognizable Northern Cross star pattern for about a year, he said.
The star — known as KIC 9832227 — came to Molnar’s attention in 2013, when he and his team discovered it was a "contact binary," in which the two stars share a common atmosphere, much like two peanuts sharing a single shell. Further detailed observations and research determined the two stars will eventually collide in about five years.
“If Larry’s prediction is correct, his project will demonstrate for the first time that astronomers can catch certain binary stars in the act of dying, and that they can track the last few years of a stellar death spiral up to the point of final, dramatic explosion,” said Matt Walhout, dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College.