ASTRONOMS around the world are preparing for a spectacle. Two stars in the constellation Cygnus are trapped in a spiral of death that swirls closer and closer together. In 2022 it was predicted that we could view their brilliant fiery red collision in real time.
Like the narky nature of science, fellow astronomers have tried to poke holes in the prophetic calculations since they were first published in 2017.
The mud that was thrown could not be stuck constantly.
And it is not the error of the calculation.
WITH GLISTENING EYES
The KIC 9832227 system is 1800 light years away.
There are two stars. And not much else.
That is because the stars are so close together.
And their job is so fast, a year is the equivalent of only 11 of our days.
They are so close, their spheres begin to mingle.
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What makes this special near-binary system so interesting to astronomers is that they are neatly aligned with the earth. Every time they rotate in orbit, one star veils the other from our perspective.
The resulting variation in brightness makes it possible for stargazers to follow how quickly the stars merge. Speed up their jobs. And that makes the prediction possible when the stars will finally be close enough to tear each other apart.
The data behind the equation used to calculate the collision date has been collected since 1999. Ongoing observations between 2007 and 2016 have shown that there is indeed a dramatic acceleration.
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Connecting the numbers in the correct equations yielded the end date of 2022.
But a team of researchers led by Quentin Socia, a graduate student at San Diego State University, has issued a new challenge – this time published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The researcher who originally produced the prediction has admitted to allow a defeat.
"Good science makes testable predictions," said Larry Molnar of Calvin College.
"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 flies, and I think they have a good point, which illustrates how science self-correcting could be. "
The core of the problem is a table with data relating to the 1999 KIC 9832227 comments.
A typing error changed the time of a observed eclipse by 12 hours.
This error has since been processed in every calculation made about the orbits of the binary system.
And that only difference of 12 hours, even in combination with the many other observations since then, was enough to throw out the end result.
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KIC 9832227 will not be booming in 2022.
We know it will happen.
Only not when.
Astronomers will have to do the maths all over again.
And check all data again.
"Although this is disappointing from a public anticipation point of view, it is an important scientific step that was needed," says Socia. "This is perhaps the most important part of the scientific process: knowledge develops most when bold predictions are made, and people interrogate and test those predictions".
Meanwhile, Molnar has dusted his calculator.
"The authors of the manuscript do not question our basic premise, that is," this is something you should be looking for, this is something that can be found, "he said. "It is actually because they agree with that basic principle that they dig deeper and so the search for an upcoming star merger continues."