Light Delays Disk Formation in White Dwarf Systems

Jun 9, 2021 | Daily Space, White Dwarfs

Light Delays Disk Formation in White Dwarf Systems
IMAGE: This artist’s concept shows a white dwarf debris disk. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Instead of explosive death, we are looking at the calmer passing of stars like our Sun. 

These mass objects eventually run out of the kinds of nuclear fuel that can fuel their fusion, and when this happens, they expand radically and then exhale their outer atmosphere. Their stellar cores remain behind as small, hot, white dwarf stars. This transition, while not explosive, is still traumatic to any surrounding planets, which may get consumed into the star or at least baked and blasted by stellar winds. By the time the star is dead, the planets may be shattered into dusty debris. 

When we look at the youngest white dwarf stars, however, we don’t see debris disks. In new research by Jordan Steckloff, which appears in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, it is shown that the extreme heat of young white dwarfs actually blasts dust apart, preventing the formation of a debris disk. It is only after the dead star has cooled a bit that a disk can form. Sadly, there just isn’t enough surviving stuff in that disk for the destroyed planets to re-mix into new worlds.

More Information

PSI press release

How Sublimation Delays the Onset of Dusty Debris Disk Formation around White Dwarf Stars,” Jordan K. Steckloff et al., 2021 June 2, The Astrophysical Journal Letters


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