We all have plenty of things to worry about and be frightened by in the course of a given day. Paying the bills, getting to work on time, making sure we don't step in front of a bus while texting. Apparently, though, researchers at Penn State University think we could all use one more thing to have anxiety over: The Earth will eventually be swallowed by our own slowly dying sun, just as the red giant star BD+48 740 did to one of its planets. It's the first time that astronomers have been able to observe, in some way, the consumption of a planet by its aging star. Sure, that fate is probably 5 billion years in the future for the Earth, when we'll all be long in the ground, but knowing it certainly doesn't make us sleep any more soundly right now.
A red giant named AFGL 3068 is dying, but it's leaving a neat space corpse in the form of a three trillion kilometer long spiral pattern of the red giant's outer layers.When a sun dies, it becomes a red giant. A red giant usually blows its outer layers into space, which get caught by solar winds and encapsulate the star, turning its escaping outer layers into something of a cocoon. The cocoon normally looks like a cloudy orb surrounding the red giant, except in AFGL 3068's case, because its system is made up of two stars orbiting their common center of mass, otherwise known as a binary star. Due to the different orbital patterns a binary star takes, the outer layers that get caught in the solar winds don't wrap the red giant in a cocoon, but get molded by the partner star into the spiral pattern seen in the above picture.