The Italian Almanac

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The Earth won't be swallowed by the Sun when, billions of years from now, it expands to become a so-called Red Giant, Italian astronomers believe. Up till now experts have thought the expansion of the Sun, estimated to happen in around five billion years, would create a giant big enough to engulf the three closest plants, Mercury, Venus and the Earth. But astronomers from Naples, Bologna and Catania observatories have discovered the first Earth-like planet to survive a Red Sun explosion. They think the Earth could make it too.

The planet, 291 Pegasi b, 4,500 light years from Earth, was a similar distance from its mother sun when it blew up. Roberto Silvotti from Naples, Bologna's Stefano Bernabei and Alfio Bonanno from Catania have tracked it for seven years using 18 telescopes. "Now we think we can safely predict that only Mercury and Venus will be engulfed by the Sun when it blows," Silvotti told the Nature journal.

Although he acknowledged that "our planet is more fragile because it's smaller," Silvotti said the survivor's discovery could offer some hope for Earth.