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Long before the Bible's tale of Jonah being swallowed by a whale, a small wannabe star has emerged intact after being engulfed by a neighboring giant star, scientists say.
The victim was a brown dwarf, a failed star too small to sustain the nuclear reactions that ignites regular stars. The purpetrator was a red giant, an ancient star that once resembled our Sun but which puffed up to enormous size after its hydrogen fuel was depleted. The red giant has since expelled most of its gas into space and transformed into a dense, Earth-sized star called a white dwarfs.
Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, astronomers spied the binary system that remains: the brown and white dwarfs. The brown dwarf is thought to have survived being swallowed by its companion during the white dwarf's red giant phase.
The discovery, detailed in the Aug. 3 issue of the journal Nature, provides the first solid evidence that an object as small as a brown dwarf-which is just one step up from giant planet mass-can survive another star's red giant phase. Previously, only red dwarfs, stars with masses about a third that of our sun, have been known to withstand such events.