The Dying Sun will Take Out the Earth

by | April 24, 2024, 1:00 PM | Earth Science, Solar Systems

Clumps of debris from a disrupted planetesimal are irregularly spaced on a long and eccentric orbit around the white dwarf. Individual clouds of rubble intermittently pass in front of the white dwarf, blocking some of its light. Because of the various sizes of the fragments in these clumps, the brightness of the white dwarf flickers in a chaotic way. Credit: Dr Mark Garlick/The University of Warwick

Living with a star today means we have a nice planet at a nice enough temperature to thrive, and we occasionally get treated to amazing light shows in the form of aurorae.

This is only temporary, however. Five billion years from now, our happy golden Sun will transform into a red giant that has had generations wondering, “Will it eat Earth?”

According to a new paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society with first author Amornat Aungwerojwit, it appears that our Sun will indeed engulf our planet… and that could be the easy way out for our world.

Their 17-year study of white dwarfs finds that these former Sun-like stars are often surrounded by planetary debris disks where planetesimals undergo disintegration. The stars also show metal pollution in their light, implying they are nibbling, or more scientifically, accreting what remains of the stars’ former solar system.

Having read my fair share of fiction, I feel comfortable saying I’d rather our planet get engulfed all at once rather than nibbled away through collisions and accretion. Opinions may vary — let us know your thoughts in the comments.