Stargazers could be in for a doozy in 2022. Two stars in a binary star system known as KIC 9832227 are believed to be on a collision course, and the resultant explosion could light up in the night sky and change how we view the constellation Cygnus. The event should glow bright and red, and is predicted to be observable with the naked eye even though the stars are 1,800 light years from Earth, reports Phys.org.
If everything pans out, KIC 9832227 will increase its brightness by ten thousand fold and transform into what is known as a "luminous red nova," a special type of stellar collision with a distinctive red color. It will be the first one of these spectacles to ever have been predicted by scientists.
"It's a one-in-a-million chance that you can predict an explosion," said Larry Molnar, the scientist behind the bold forecast. "It's never been done before."
Molnar first became curious about KIC 9832227 back in 2013 when it was found that the star's orbital period, the length of time it takes for a star to make one complete orbit around another object, was decreasing. In other words, the stars were orbiting each other at a faster rate, indicating an imminent collision. Through painstaking calculation, he was able to settle on a date for the merge: 2022, give or take a year.
Whether Molnar's prediction holds up in every respect or not, the event will offer unprecedented insight into what happens when binary stars merge. It's a rare opportunity to study an immensely powerful event, step-by-step, right in front of our eyes.
A patch of sky will change from darkness into one of the brightest dots in the night sky. It will be found in the constellation Cygnus and will add a star to the recognizable Northern Cross star pattern.
"The project is significant not only because of the scientific results, but also because it is likely to capture the imagination of people on the street," said Matt Walhout, dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College. "If the prediction is correct, then for the first time in history, parents will be able to point to a dark spot in the sky and say, 'Watch, kids, there's a star hiding in there, but soon it's going to light up.'"