Well, this is certainly a parade that is being driven out of existence. A spectacular astronomical event that was predicted for 2022 will not happen now.
In early 2017 scientists predict the collision of two stars in the constellation Cygnus – something that would result in a rare and wondrous phenomenon visible to the naked eye. And the news spread like a running fire.
The two stars, located only 1800 light-years from Earth, are currently locked in a spiraling death dance. According to the researchers, in the year 2022 – just a few short years away – they would clash.
And it would not just be a small blow in the night sky. When the binary star system KIC 9832227 finally merged, it would produce a luminous red nova – rising in brightness by a factor of 10,000, which would be visible from the earth for some time.
Now, however, that prediction is nixed.
* Sad trombone *
A team of researchers led by astronomer Quentin Socia at San Diego State University has meticulously pursued mathematics and devised a different result.
And the original researcher – astronomer Larry Molnar of Calvin College – agreed with this new finding.
"Good science makes testable predictions," said Molnar.
"There have been a few other papers that have tried to poke us into our project, and we've been able to poke back – criticisms that just do not fly, but it does fly, and I think they have a good point." This illustrates how science self-correcting. "
The problem turned out to be the data that Molnar and his team used to make the prediction.
KIC 9832227 is a fascinating system. The two stars are so closely locked together that they only need 11 hours to complete one full job. And they are so close that they share parts of their atmosphere, which is known as contact binary.
They are also a black-out binary number, oriented in the right way, which, while rotating in orbit, obscure each other from our point of view here on Earth.
The prediction was based on the timing of minimal light – that is, the point at the middle eclipse where the light from the binary system is the lowest – from all available sources.
Molnar and his team used Calvin Observatory data between 2013 and 2016. Between 2007 and 2013 they used data from other observatories. There was a long gap in the data before 2007, but in 1999 one observation was taken as part of the Northern Sky Variability Survey.
Socia and his team have worked on previously unpublished archival data from 2003, taken as part of the NASA Ames Vulcan Project. And they discovered that the eclipses took place half an hour later than predicted by Molnar's merger hypothesis.
They have redone the numbers and checked the times after 2007. But that one data point of 1999 was not good – an hour later than it should be.
The guilty? A typo.
Yep. In the paper that originally described the 1999 data, published in 2004, a typing error resulted in a misrepresentation of the timing of the eclipse by 12 hours. This error has been included in the calculations of Molnars team.
Interestingly, the typo does not appear in the preprint of the article (it is the month or the value of the modified Julian date in table 6).
The eclipse had absolutely not occurred at the time the published article also mentioned. Socia calculated where KIC 9832227 would have been at that specific time. It would have been below the horizon. The telescope would not have been able to see it.
This is not to say that KIC 9832227 will not use a kaboom at some point in the future; but that point will not be in 2022.
And yes, we have emptied a bit; but ultimately, while science can give, the ability to take away is equally important.
"This is perhaps the most important part of the scientific process: knowledge develops most when bold predictions are made, and people ask questions and test those predictions," said Socia.
"Often the most exciting discoveries are made when our expectations are not met – a good example of how scientists from different parts of the world can work together to better understand how our universe works, bringing together new pieces of the puzzle."
So it will not be KIC 9832227. But in the end a double star will collide, and there are now a lot of eyes that are looking for that.
"The authors of the manuscript do not question our basic premise, that is to say:" This is something you should be looking for, this is something that can be found, "said Molnar.
"It's actually because they agree with that fundamental principle that they dig deeper, so the search for an upcoming star-wave merger continues."
The research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.