If you’re looking for a good light show in 2022, make sure you look up at the constellation Cygnus for a red nova created by two merging stars. These two stars currently make up the contact binary called KIC 9832227. A contact binary is one in which the two stars are touching and stand the best chance of creating an observable merge.
What’s A Red Nova?
The event in 2022 is called a red nova because it will be caused by the merger of two low-mass stars. During the merger process, the two stars will shed mass in an explosion at relatively low temperatures. The result of a merger that might cause a red nova usually isn’t the death of a star, but the creation of a larger star that used to be two smaller stars.
Previous examples of red novas include V1309 Scorpii, an event that was observed in 2008. Astronomers were able to trace the cause of the V1309 Scorpii red nova to a contact binary similar to KIC 9832227 that began its merge in 2001.
Lawrence Molnar, a professor of astronomy and physics at Calvin College, said of the 2008 event, “V1309 was [brightening] before the event. It isn’t doing it today. That’s the smoking gun of a merging star.”
No Telescope Needed
If the prediction of this red nova is correct, it will be the first time that astronomers have accurately predicted a nova of any type. “You won’t need a telescope in 2022 to tell me if I was wrong or I was right,” Molnar said.
The red nova is expected to be visible for about six months and will have an apparent magnitude of 2. By way of comparison, Mars and Saturn appear a little brighter in the night sky than this red nova will with an apparent magnitude of 1.84 and 1.47, respectively. Viewing will only require a clear night and a star map with the location of the constellation Cygnus. Planning a star party with fellow astronomy enthusiasts is recommended.