I know with the holidays coming up you've probably been worrying about the sun expanding into a red giant, engulfing the Earth, and turning us all into a swirling mass of vaporized rock. A newly discovered planetary system suggests that Earth may actually be able to survive this last dying gasp of our star. Mostly. Sort of. Well, maybe at least a little bit.
We were pretty sure that the end of the world (if we didn't somehow bring it about ourselves) would happen sometime about five billion years from now, as our sun runs out of hydrogen fuel, starts to burn helium, and expands into a red giant. The Earth is going to have a very good view of this process, with the expectation being that we're going to get completely swallowed up.
However, we may not actually get torched into vapor, which is vaguely surprising when you consider that the Earth will be officially inside the sun. The Kepler space telescope has spotted a couple planets orbiting a dead star about a hundred times closer than we orbit our sun. And since their star has already gone through the red giant phase and out the other side, these planets must have been exposed to the entire cycle without being completely destroyed. If they can make it, so can we! Or at least, that's the hope.
I suppose it's worth mentioning that both of those exoplanets are much bigger than the Earth is, so they're probably better able to keep themselves together. It's probably also worth mentioning that even if Earth isn't entirely vaporized (fingers crossed!), all life will still be fried to a crisp, our water will boil off, and our atmosphere will be blasted out into space. But the Earth itself will still technically exist. So, are you feeling better about the whole thing now? Yeah, me too!