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NASA looks at colliding exoplanets 300 light-years from Earth

More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered so far, but what happens when they collide?

A newly published study looks at a star system, BD + 20 307, more than 300 light-years from Earth, which may contain evidence of two exoplanets recently colliding.

Astronomers analyzed data from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which “revealed the infrared brightness from the debris has increased by more than 10 [percent] — a sign that there is now even more warm dust,” according to a statement announcing the findings.

Artist’s concept illustrating a catastrophic collision between two rocky exoplanets in the planetary system BD +20 307, turning both into dusty debris. 
(Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

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Dust and debris were first spotted by ground observatories and the Spitzer Space Telescope approximately a decade ago.

“The warm dust around BD +20 307 gives us a glimpse into what catastrophic impacts between rocky exoplanets might be like,” said the study’s lead author, Maggie Thompson, in a statement. “We want to know how this system subsequently evolves after the extreme impact.”

“Because of its extreme dustiness and small radius, the disk of BD +20 307 has a short predicted collision time and is therefore an interesting target in which to look for changes in dust quantity and composition over time,” the study’s abstract states, adding that a “catastrophic collision between planetary-scale bodies is still the most likely origin for the system’s extreme dust.”

The new research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

“This is a rare opportunity to study catastrophic collisions occurring late in a planetary system’s history,” added Alycia Weinberger, staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, in the statement. “The SOFIA observations show changes in the dusty disk on a timescale of only a few years.”

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Some researchers believe that the Earth’s Moon may have also formed in a similar manner, after an asteroid the size of Mars hit the planet nearly 4.5 billion years ago.

A separate study, published in January, also speculated that this ancient collision with the Mars-sized object may be responsible for life on Earth.

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SOURCE : https://www.foxnews.com/science/nasa-colliding-exoplanets-300-light-years-earth

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