Boom Star: A new star is coming to the skies — in 5 years

An astrophysicist and Telus Spark educator can barely conceal his excitement over an event that is a full five years out.

'When you look up, you will be able to see a star that wasn’t there the night before'

This artist’s impression shows VFTS 352 — the hottest and most massive double star system to date where the two components are in contact and sharing material. The two stars in this extreme system lie about 160,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud. This intriguing system could be heading for a dramatic end, either with the formation of a single giant star or as a future binary black hole. (L. Calçada/European Southern Observatory)

An astrophysicist and Telus Spark educator can barely conceal his excitement over an event that is still a full five years out.

"When that happens, they think we are going to get this brand new star in our sky," Jesse Rogerson told CBC's The Homestretch on Wednesday.

"When you look up, you will be able to see a star that wasn't there the night before."

He's talking about the Boom Star, the product of two stars colliding about 1,800 years ago, but it won't be visible until 2022.

Rogerson says the ability to forecast an event like this shows how far science has come.

"Being able to predict something like this, hoping that it happens at the time we say it is going to happen, really shows us that we get the physics, we get how stars work, how they evolve and how they die," he said.

"It's a tough puzzle to put together when the lifetimes of stars are billions of years long. If this plays out the way we think it will, it's a really strong feather in our cap for how stellar physics works."

Jesse Rogerson, an astrophysicist and Telus Spark educator, says the Boom Star that could be visible in the night sky in 5 years, shows how far science has progressed. (Jesse Rogerson)

An event about nine years ago may have paved the way for this prediction. 

"Back in 2008, there was a star that exploded as well," Rogerson explained.

"They didn't know it was going to happen but when they dug into other observations that had been made of this star, they realized that it was a contact binary before it exploded and that it had exhibited a very specific trend, a very specific period change in its orbit."

Contact binary system

He says astronomers watching the current Boom Star progression found the same contact binary system and realized it was changing in the same ways the 2008 incident did.

Rogerson said about half of the stars in the universe exist in a binary system.

"That means they actually share an atmosphere. Material passes back and forth between the two stars," he said.

"Eventually they will merge into one star."

Visible for a couple of months

He says if everything goes as predicted, that new star should be visible for a few months before it fades away from naked-eye observation, but the event is symbolic.

"I am hoping to be able to see it. I want to be able to go out and say, 'Yup, that star wasn't there before.' As an educator being able to really show how dynamic our night sky is, is important to me."

With files from The Homestretch