It could be one of the biggest astronomical events in years ― a star explosion so intense it could literally change the night sky.
Astronomers are predicting that binary star system KIC 9832227, located in the Cygnus constellation, will merge and explode in a “red nova” event in 2022.
And if it happens as predicted, its brightness will increase by 10,000-fold, making it one of the brightest objects in the night sky and easily visible with the naked eye, according to a Calvin College news release.
“It will be a very dramatic change in the sky, as anyone can see it,” Calvin College astronomer Larry Molnar told National Geographic. “You won’t need a telescope to tell me in 2023 whether I was wrong or I was right.”
And when it’s over, there will be a new star in the Northern Cross formation.
But don’t make firm plans around watching the event. Not only is there no exact date beyond 2022 ― give or take a year ― but no one has ever really made a prediction of this nature before.
“It’s a one-in-a-million chance that you can predict an explosion,” Molnar said in the news release. “It’s never been done before.”
Molnar and his students have been observing KIC 9832227 for several years now, along with fellow astronomers Karen Kinemuchi from Apache Point Observatory and Henry Kobulnicky from University of Wyoming.
His research assistant, Daniel Van Noord, found that the two stars in the system shared an atmosphere, “like two peanuts sharing a single shell,” Molnar said.
But when Van Noord calculated their orbital period, he found it had changed.
That shift was similar to what astronomer Romuald Tylenda had seen before V1309 Scorpii unexpectedly exploded in 2008, the school said.
That means history could be about to repeat itself.
If their calculations are correct, the explosion would be about as bright as Polaris, the North Star, according to National Geographic.
“The project is significant not only because of the scientific results, but also because it is likely to capture the imagination of people on the street,” said Matt Walhout, dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College, in a statement. “If the prediction is correct, then for the first time in history, parents will be able to point to a dark spot in the sky and say, ‘Watch, kids, there’s a star hiding in there, but soon it’s going to light up.’”