Pressing challenges in post-main-sequence planetary science

Sun with stars in space

How do planetary systems die? What can we learn from these death throes?

Our Sun is currently a middle-aged star and will eventually end its life in dramatic fashion, swallowing at least Mercury and Venus and breaking apart asteroids. We currently see manifestations of these ‘end-time’ events in evolved exo-planetary systems. This is after the star has transformed first into a red giant and then a burnt remnant known as a white dwarf.

Ernest Rutherford Fellowship

While these observations have been mounting, theoretical explanations have been lagging behind. With my Ernest Rutherford Fellowship, I am attempting to bridge this gap and lay the theoretical foundations for the current and next eras of discovery.

Specifically, my research seeks to:

  • model the physical and orbital evolution of the building blocks of exo-planets, primordial exo-asteroids, during the giant branch phases of stellar evolution. This is where the exo-asteroids are subject to strong radiation forces from the Yarkovsky and Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effects
  • identify plausible dynamical delivery mechanisms of exo-asteroids and exo-planetary fragments to the Roche radii of the white dwarfs, and quantify the likelihood of each mechanism
  • identify and model the dominant physical processes in white dwarf exo-planetary debris discs over timescales ranging from days to millions of years.

Top image:  Credit: robertsrob, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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