How some planets can survive their stars’ deaths | 5/19/2019 | Paul Scott Anderson
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Artist’s concept of a planet being destroyed by gravitational forces from its dying star, which is turning into a white dwarf. Some planets might be able to escape this fate, however, according to a new study from the University of Warwick. Image via CfA/Mark A. Garlick.

When a star dies, which of its planets have the best chance of surviving? It turns out that the smallest and densest rocky worlds would be the most likely to escape a crushing, fiery fate. This was the conclusion of a new study by astrophysicists at the University of Warwick in the U.K., who published their findings in the peer-reviewed Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on May 1, 2019.

Scientists - Research - Guide - Exoplanets - Kinds

The scientists describe their research as a “survival guide for exoplanets” that outlines how different kinds of planets would fare when their host star dies and turns first into a red giant and then a white dwarf, the hot, burnt-out core of the once-active star. Massive-enough stars would ultimately explode as supernovae, blasting their outer layers into space. As might be expected, many planets would be destroyed during the transition from ordinary star to white dwarf, but some would be able to escape their doom, depending on various factors. According to the new study’s lead author Dimitri Veras:

The paper is one of the first-ever dedicated studies investigating tidal effects [gravitational effects] between white dwarfs and planets. This type of modeling will have increasing relevance in upcoming years, when additional rocky bodies are likely to be discovered close to white dwarfs.


So which planets would be the most likely to be obliterated?

Artist’s concept of a dust ring surrounding a white dwarf star, all that remains of a planet that has been ripped apart by tidal (gravitational) forces during the star’s cataclysmic death. Image via University of Warwick/Mark...
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