A decade ago, astronomers saw a lot of warm dust in a star system. Now, there’s even more of it, suggesting there could be an exoplanet collision.

Scientists call this binary star system BD +20 307. It lies about 300 light-years away from us in a region full of stars. The two stars orbiting in the BD +20 307 system are at least a billion years old. By contrast, our sun is 4.5 billion years old.

Ten years ago, observations by several ground-based telescopes and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope gave the first hints of a possible exoplanet collision.

But astronomers observed this warm, dusty debris disk again using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Now they found the Infrared brightness of this debris has gone up by about 10 percent since the previous observations, meaning there is more warm dust floating around now than there was a decade ago. This indicates a large-scale planetary collision must have occurred in the BD +20 307 system relatively recently.

“This is a rare opportunity to study catastrophic collisions occurring late in a planetary system’s history,” Alycia Weinberger, a staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., and the lead investigator on the project, said in a NASA statement. “The SOFIA observations show changes in the dusty disk on a timescale of only a few years.”

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

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The giant impacts play an important role in shaping planetary systems.

“The warm dust around BD +20 307 gives us a glimpse into what catastrophic impacts between rocky exoplanets might be like,” says Maggie Thompson, lead author on the study. “We want to know how this system subsequently evolves after the extreme impact.”

The researchers plan to conduct follow-up observations and further analyze the data to observe future changes in the system.

Researchers described their study in a paper published April 12 in The Astrophysical Journal.

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