You probably won't be around to stare at the sky and make dumbfounded murmurings. But your children — or at least, your grandchildren — will be.
And what a sight they will behold in 2083. That's when astronomers expect a couple of celestial stragglers — two stars that make up a binary system called V Sagittae — finally come together.
Astronomers at Louisiana State University made the prediction at this month's 235th American Astronomical Society, literally a star-studded event considered the Super Bowl of astronomy.
"The fate of V Sagittae is inevitable," Bradley Schaefer, one of the LSU researchers, announced at a press conference according to New Scientist. "Set your calendar."
To make that determination, the team studied images of the binary system dating from 1890 all the way to the present. While the stars, hanging around the constellation Sagitta, are scarcely visible to even a medium-powered telescope today, they have been steadily ratcheting up their luminosity. In fact, over the last 100 years or so, their brightness has increased 10-fold.
Based on computer models, that dramatic uptick in the dazzle factor could mean only one thing: these stars are bracing for a final, fatal kiss. It would, however, be a rather one-sided affair. V Sagittae is a twirling embrace between a burnt-out husk of a star, called a white dwarf, and another star that's four times as massive. It's classified as a Cataclysmic Variable, or CV, a term given to systems in which a "relatively normal" star is transferring mass to its much smaller companion.
In this case, V Sagittae's white dwarf has been hoovering up its consort's plasma, drawing the celestial bodies into an ever closer embrace.
"In all other known CVs the white dwarf is more massive than the orbiting normal star, so V Sge is utterly unique," Schaefer explains in a press release.
When they finally crash into each other in 2083, give or take 16 years, researchers suggest their explosive finale will dwarf everything else that glitters in our night sky.
"Around the year 2083, its accretion rate will rise catastrophically, spilling mass at incredibly high rates onto the white dwarf, with this material blazing away," Schaefer notes in the release. "In the final days of this death-spiral, all of the mass from the companion star will fall onto the white dwarf, creating a super-massive wind from the merging star, appearing as bright as Sirius, possibly even as bright as Venus."
In other words, our children's children — even in cities wallowing in light pollution — will be hard-pressed to miss this sky-spanning kiss.
"For maybe a few weeks, it will be the brightest stellar object in the sky," research team member Juhan Frank, a Louisiana State professor, tells Gizmodo. "It may even shine brighter than Venus, though those predictions are uncertain."