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The Earth may be torn apart in the future by a zombie sun

A study on white dwarf stars delivers concerning news about the future of Earth. It suggests that even if Earth is not engulfed when the Sun expands to its maximum size, it could eventually be disintegrated by the remnants of the Sun.

Although the Sun experiences occasional megaflares, it is generally a highly stable star. It is necessary for us to exist; otherwise, we would not be here. However, it will not last indefinitely. It will go through the process of becoming a red giant, then collapse into a white dwarf, just like all stars of its magnitude. Red giants emit significantly higher amounts of thermal energy compared to their precursor stars, to the extent that even the initial stages of this phase possess the potential to render Earth uninhabitable due to excessive heating. It is highly improbable that humanity will still exist at that time, so it would be wise for us to have discovered a new habitat.

Although the Earth will become uninhabitable at that time, there is ongoing discussion regarding the planet’s survival, potentially serving as a commemoration for exiles to reflect upon. There is ongoing debate regarding this matter, but it is certain that Mercury and Venus will be engulfed. Recent research indicates that even if the Earth survives, it will continue to encounter additional threats. However, the white dwarf phase, also known as a deceased star, carries inherent dangers.

Professor Boris Gaensicke from the University of Warwick in England, along with Dr. Amornrat Aungwerijwit from Naresuan University in Thailand, have collaborated to gather long-term observations of three white dwarfs. Scientists observed variations in the luminosity of each star, which they attributed to the consumption of objects, resulting in the emission of dust bursts.

Because they are so much denser, white dwarfs have a much stronger gravitational field around them, even though they have less mass than the stars that came before them.

“Previous research had shown that when asteroids, moons, and planets get close to white dwarfs, the huge gravity of these stars tears these small planetary bodies into ever smaller pieces,” Aungwerijwit said in a statement.

The process makes dust that temporarily blocks out the stars. It also changes the make-up of the white dwarfs’ outer layers, which lets us figure out what the objects they eat are made of.

Gaensicke said, “It’s mind-blowing that we can find asteroids, maybe moons, or even planets whizzing around a white dwarf every couple of hours. But our study shows that the behavior of these systems can change very quickly, in just a few years.” “While we think we are on the right path in our studies, the fate of these systems is far more complex than we could have ever imagined.”

Out of the three target stars, one was stable but seemed to be getting better after something terrible happened more than ten years ago. A second star was slowly getting brighter, but observations from 2015 showed that its brightness was changing in a crazy way. The third one is the most mysterious. It dims every couple of months and changes every minute during these times. According to the authors, “These long-term changes may be due to the ongoing disruption of a planetesimal or the collision between multiple fragments, both of which cause a temporary rise in dust production.”

During their red giant phase, these stars would have wiped out everything in their path. So, the things that are being crushed must have been in orbits farther away, like those of Mars or the asteroid belt. Something must have messed up the orbits of the bad things once the white dwarf stage started, bringing them close enough to the dead star for its gravity to affect them.

Because all of these stars are consuming something big right now or have in the past few years, it is likely that many of them have these issues. The white dwarfs used in this study were not picked at random. The authors say that only a small percentage of white dwarfs are breaking down matter all the time, and that most of them do this over longer periods of time.

If Earth makes it through the red giant phase, it will be a much bigger target than a small asteroid, making it harder to damage. At this point, though, it would be the survivor with the closest orbit, which made it less likely that it would avoid the dusty fate.

It was written up in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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