Astronomers Believe Rare ‘Red Nova’ Will Light Up The Sky In A Few Years

Astronomers Believe Rare 'Red Nova' Will Light Up The Sky In A Few Years

Astronomer Larry Molnar has found a star system he believes will go nova as early as five years from now.

A luminous red nova is a stellar explosion thought to be caused by the merging of two stars. They are characterised by a distinct red colour, and a light curve that lingers with resurgent brightness in the infrared. Luminous red novae are not to the same as standard novae, explosions that occur on the surface of white dwarf stars.

Larry Molnar and colleagues from the Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan have found a star system named KIC 9832227 and they believe it’s in an imminent spiral of fate. KIC 9832227 is a binary star system that is set to merge and go nova. In 2008 astronomers studied the phenomenon of a binary star system merge in a well known object named V1309 Scorpii.

In a preview for an upcoming documentary called ‘Luminous’ Molnar goes on to note that “No one has ever seen a star go into this kind of explosion. No other situation has come up where any astronomer has ever been able to say, ‘this is a star about to blow up.”

Molnar believes the merge and subsequent red nova will happen just 5 years from now and predicts that it could be visible in the night sky without the use of a telescope or binoculars.

Proof of the merger is shown in the system’s orbit “Over the past ten years, the period of KIC 9832227 has been getting shorter at a faster and faster rate. This implies that the stars are orbiting faster and getting closer together.” writes the team in a research poster.

A computer model of binary star system KIC 9832227. Calvin College/Cara Alexander, Daniel Van Noord, Chris Spedden, and Larry Molnar

It’s believed when the two stars collide, the remnant may look similar to V838 Monocerotis, a star that went nova in 2002 and was momentarily 600,000 times brighter than our sun.

Molnar’s research predicts that the explosion from KIC 9832227 should increase it’s magnitude 1,000 times – to a magnitude 2 – this would make it just as bright as Polaris, our North Star.

Below you can see a timelapse compilation of photos from the V838 Monocerotis red nova. This is roughly 4 years of data squished into six seconds.


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Jamie is an amateur astronomer and every day space geek.