Scientists glimpse ‘end of the world’ by analyzing dying stars

April 20th, 2009 - 4:00 pm ICT by ANI  

London, April 20 (ANI): A research into dying stars that once blazed as brightly as the Sun has revealed a glimpse of the ‘end of the world’, which awaits the Earth billions of years from now.

According to a report in The Times, a team led by Jay Farihi, of the University of Leicester, UK, did the research.

The astronomers discovered that at least one in 100 white dwarfs - the burnt-out remnants of Sun-like stars - once had solar systems, with planets that were destroyed or deep-frozen by the death throes of their stars.

The research suggests millions of other solar systems have endured the destiny predicted for the Earth when the Sun dies.

When stars like the Sun die, they swell into red giants.

When the process begins for the Sun in approximately 4 billion years, it will fill much of the inner solar system; most calculations suggest the Earth will be engulfed.

Once red giants burn themselves out, they collapse into much smaller bodies, known as white dwarfs.

These dying stars no longer sustain themselves with nuclear fusion, and glow only because of their residual heat as they cool over billions of years.

Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the team analyzed the gassy atmospheres around existing white dwarfs, some of which contain particles of dust.

They found that the dust is made from the same basic materials as asteroids and rocky planets.

It suggests that the debris could be the remains of Earth-like planets, which were engulfed by a swelling red giant before it turned into a white dwarf.

“What we have seen is a possible fate for our own solar system,” said Dr Farihi. “Many of the systems we are studying will have been similar to our own. It’s a possibility that some of them could once have held life,” he added. (ANI)

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