If you think about it too much, the sun is really quite terrifying. Yeah it gives us life, but it could wipe us out with a small hiccup. It can (and eventually will) roast our pathetic little planet billions of years from now. We may be the star’s child, but our parent is… well… not exactly even-tempered. And it looks like our tense relationship with dear ol’ mom isn’t unique.

A short galactic jump away there’s a flashing star. It randomly dims and spurts, suggesting that something weird is going on. And a new study examines just that.  RZ Piscium, as the star is called, dims dramatically at times, dropping its output by upwards of 90%. The general conclusion being that its light has been blocked by massive clouds of dust and gas.

That could come from either a very young or very old star. If it’s a wee bab, then it’s likely the dust is a protoplanetary disk, steadily condensing to form planets and moons. An older star, on the other hand, would suggest that it’s entered the final phase of its life scorching its children as our own star one day will.

New research though suggests that it’s an adolescent star — a bit more spritely than our sun, but still far older than it should be for the protoplanetary disk to be the cause. Scientists dated the beast using X-ray scanning, a temperature check, and a look at its spectral lines. Together, these can tell researchers the star’s age.

At an estimated 30 to 50 million years old, researchers were a bit puzzled. Most stars form planets within a couple million years.

“The fact that RZ Piscium hosts so much gas and dust after tens of millions of years means it’s probably destroying, rather than building, planets,” one of the study authors Ben Zuckerman said.

Some of the dust is being carried outwards, while other clouds are falling in towards the star. Obviously, the dust hasn’t settled and isn’t being influenced too strongly one way or the other — an indication that it’s quite recent.

All of that could mean one of several planet-busting scenarios, according to study co-author Kristina Punzi.

“The destruction of planets could be caused by collisions of planets in a planetary system and/or a planet wandering too close to the star that it orbits — perhaps due to a collision with another body in the system,” Punzi told Gizmodo. She added that her hypothesis is that the star is gobbling up a planet similar to Jupiter. It could be ripped to shreds by the parent star’s gravity, and that would explain some bursts in X-rays the team observed.

In truth, though, quite a few may have happened. But there’s a strong case to be made that the star is tearing up its children and feasting on their remains. And that’s definitely a creepy thought. Thank Sagan our sun isn’t infanticidal… yet.


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