Friday, December 09, 2022

Cosmic cannibalism as dead star devours planets around it

The Sun is the source of all energy in our solar system, but what happens when this star dies – havoc. Astronomers have observed a similar development in deep space as a dead star turns to cosmic cannibalism in its own planetary system.

The dead star is ejecting debris from both the inner and outer reaches of the system, consuming both rocky-metallic and icy material, planetary material. This phenomenon was observed in archival data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories.

Astronomers hope the findings will help describe the violent nature of evolved planetary systems and may reveal the makeup of newly formed systems. The star seen is G238-44, which is a white dwarf.

A white dwarf is what is left of a star like our Sun when it sheds its outer layers and stops burning fuel through nuclear fusion. The findings are also interesting because small icy objects are credited for crashing into and “irrigating” the dry, rocky planets in our solar system.

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Lead researcher Ted Johnson said, “We haven’t seen both of these types of objects accumulating on a white dwarf at the same time. By studying these white dwarfs, we hope to gain a better understanding of the planetary systems that exist now.” are also intact.” , and a recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) graduate.

Hubble Pics

This illustrated diagram of the planetary system G238-44 traces its destruction. The small white dwarf star is at the center of the action. (Photo: NASA)

Theories of planetary system evolution describe the transition between a red giant star and a white dwarf phase as a chaotic process. The star quickly loses its outer layers and the orbits of its planets change dramatically. Small objects, such as asteroids and dwarf planets, can get very close to the giant planets and be sent falling towards the star.

The study confirms the scale of this violently chaotic phase, showing that within 100 million years after the start of its white dwarf phase, the star is capable of simultaneously capturing and consuming material from regions such as its asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt. .

What happens when a star dies?

When a star like our Sun expands into a bloated red giant late in its life, it will shed mass by inflating its outer layers. One consequence of this may be the gravitational scattering of smaller objects such as asteroids, comets and moons by any remaining large planets.

Researchers are looking at the final scenario of the Sun’s evolution 5 billion years from now. The Earth, along with the inner planets, could be completely vaporized. But the orbits of many asteroids in the main asteroid belt would be gravitationally perturbed by Jupiter and would eventually fall on the white dwarf that would become the rest of the Sun.

“After the red giant phase, the white dwarf star that remains is no larger than Earth. Wayward planets move very close to the star and experience powerful tidal forces that tear them apart, forming a gaseous and dusty disks that eventually collapse onto the surface of the white dwarf,” Johnson explained.

The team’s results were presented at an American Astronomical Society (AAS) press conference.

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