A professor from Calvin College Professor, Larry Molnar predicted a change to the night sky that will be visible to the naked eye.
A team that includes Karen Kinemuchi from Apache Point Observatory and Henry Kobulnicky from University of Wyoming accompany Molnar in new discovery.
“It’s a one-in-a-million chance that you can predict an explosion,” Molnar said of his bold prognostication. “It’s never been done before.”
Molnar’s prediction is that a binary star (two stars orbiting each other) he is monitoring will merge and explode in 2022, give or take a year; at which time the star will increase its brightness ten thousand fold, becoming one of the brighter stars in the heavens for a time. The star will be visible as part of the constellation Cygnus, and will add a star to the recognizable Northern Cross star pattern.
A question leads to exploration
Molnar’s exploration into the star known as KIC 9832227 began back in 2013. He was attending an astronomy conference when fellow astronomer Karen Kinemuchi presented her study of the brightness changes of the star, which concluded with a question: Is it pulsing or is it a binary?
Also present at the conference was then Calvin College student Daniel Van Noord ’14, Molnar’s research assistant. He took the question as a personal challenge and made some observations of the star with the Calvin observatory.
“He looked at how the color of the star correlated with brightness and determined it was definitely a binary,” said Molnar. “In fact, he discovered it was actually a contact binary, in which the two stars share a common atmosphere, like two peanuts sharing a single shell.
“From there Dan determined a precise orbital period from Kinemuchi’s Kepler satellite data (just under 11 hours) and was surprised to discover that the period was slightly less than that shown by earlier data” Molnar continued