Guest Article by Claire Webber
New Research on stars reveals the way they pull in and destroy orbiting planets with their gravitation.
Scientists have long theorized about the possibilities of a large stars gravitational pull. In fact, this is where theories about black holes come from—stars that are so large and have such a powerful gravitational pull that not even light can escape its amazing grasp.
In the last few years, scientists have made further discoveries in regards to planets orbiting stars in far off galaxies and the effects those stars play on their orbit. More recent computer models have predicted ways that these orbiting planets might succumb to particularly strong gravitation.
“When we look at the observed properties of extrasolar planets, we can see that this has already happened – some extrasolar planets have already fallen into their stars,” said Roy Barnes, astronomer at the University of Washington.
Scientists use computer models to determine where stars and planets should be located in the solar system. These computer models have evolved to be incredibly accurate and precise when it comes to predicting the existence of celestial bodies. But then scientists noticed certain planets missing from orbits and systems where, according to the models, they should exist.
Barnes says this is because those planets have already fallen into the stars. Recently he co-authored a paper on the subject which will soon be published in Astrophysical Journal.
The subject matter of the paper concerns planets which are orbiting relatively close to their parent stars. In addition to the computer model simulations, their existence is often proved by detecting variations in light given off from those stars when the planets come between the stars and earth in their orbits.
Co-author Brian Jackson, from the University of Arizona, says that because of the proximity of the stars and planets to each other their gravitational fields begin to affect each other in strange ways. Most often, the stars shape is affected because it is mostly a gaseous, flexible mass. This change is referred to as a change in the stars ‘tide.
’”Tides distort the shape of a star. The bigger the tidal distortion, the more quickly the tide will pull the planet in,” said Jackson. The process is incredibly slow, measured in millions of years, he noted. “Eventually the planet’s orbit brings it close enough to the star that the star’s gravity begins tearing the planet apart. So either the planet will be torn apart before it ever reaches the surface of the star, or in the process of being torn apart its orbit eventually will intersect the star’s atmosphere and the heat from the star will obliterate the planet.
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