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Coming Soon, A New Star in Cygnus?


Well, maybe, if Dr. Larry Molnar’s forecast is correct. The Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids feels that we may within the next few years experience a flaring of two stars now waltzing around each other in extremely close proximity. They could be in the process of cataclysmically merging into a single star.

Dr. Molnar considers himself fortunate. He came to the private West Michigan school at just the right time. In 1998, Calvin’s leadership wanted to enhance their commitment to astronomy as an important part of the science curriculum. The modest observatory, built atop the science building in the 1970’s, needed an upgrade. Molnar and his colleagues sought to make that happen not only to bring the wonder of the oldest of the sciences to the general student population, but to provide research opportunities while training future astronomers. There is solid evidence of how well they have succeeded. Calvin students are today using the updated telescope on the Grand Rapids campus and an identical robotic telescope under the clear steady air of New Mexico to monitor nearby asteroids and stars that vary in light output. Molnar, with students and colleagues, has recently made observations that have led to a bold prediction. We in West Michigan and throughout the world may soon witness the appearance of a new star in the sky: what is termed a “luminous red nova.”

Molnar points out that the search for the merging stars and other significant research Calvin faculty and students have conducted in recent years has been fortuitous. “We have had some lucky breaks.” One came about due to a longstanding alliance with Rehoboth Christian School east of Gallup, New Mexico. Its campus, perched at a dark high altitude with far more clear nights per year than we experience in West Michigan, was the perfect spot to establish the robotic telescope.