Scientists have predicted that around six billion years from now, the Sun will run out of fuel and die. However, researchers have found out that before the Sun calls it quit, it will expand massively and emit powerful electromagnetic radiations in the process which could pulverize the solar system’s asteroids.
According to a study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the radiation given off by stars like our sun in their death throes can spin asteroids to such high speeds that they break apart into successively smaller fragments.
Around 90 per cent of the stars in the universe, including our own Sun, are “main sequence” stars. When these stars use up all of their hydrogen fuel they balloon to hundreds of times their normal size. This phase — known as the “giant branch” — lasts a few million years, which is too short in cosmic terms.
During this time, the stars not only grow in size but also experience a huge increase in their luminosity while they emit electromagnetic radiation. As per the study, the inflated stars then shed their expanded outer layers and collapse into a dense remnant– known as a white dwarf.
According to the lead authors of the paper, Dimitri Veras from the University of Warwick in the UK and Daniel Scheeres at the University of Colorado, the increasingly intense radiation emitted by main-sequence stars during the “giant branch” phase will be absorbed by asteroids.
As per the study, this radiation will be redistributed internally and then emitted from a different location within the asteroid. It will create an imbalance, which in turn will create a torque effect gradually spinning up the asteroid. This will lead them to break-up speed at one full rotation every two hours. This effect is known as the YORP effect, named after four scientists — Yarkovsky, O’Keefe, Radzievskii, and Paddack — who contributed ideas to the concept.
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This torque will pull the asteroid apart into smaller pieces and the process will keep on repeating itself in several stages breaking asteroids down into smaller and smaller objects until the pieces become too small to be affected, which is between 1 and 100 meters in diameter.
According to the researchers, larger asteroids are loosely held together and have weaker internal strength, whereas, the smaller asteroids have more internal strength and don’t break up easily.
Veras said that the results of the study indicate that during the sun’s giant branch phase, asteroids even further away from the sun than Neptune or Pluto would be pulverized by this effect, leaving behind the asteroids that are small and have sufficient internal strength to stay intact.
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