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Beyond Earthly Skies

Nebulae from Destructed Giant Planets

31 Mar 2015, 22:00 UTC
Nebulae from Destructed Giant Planets Gemini Observatory/AURA
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A white dwarf is basically the leftover core of a star that has shed its outer layers. The large amount of mass that is lost as a star evolves into a white dwarf can destabilise a planetary system around the star. This can potentially send planets towards the star where they either collide with the star or become tidally disrupted. If a gas giant planet meets such a fate, it can drive the formation of what is known as a “real planetary nebula”.The planetary nebula Sharpless 2-71, as imaged by the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph on Gemini North in Hawaii. Image credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA.A gas giant planet is comprised mostly of hydrogen and helium, with a dense solid core in the middle. If it is orbiting a white dwarf and happens to be perturbed into an orbit which brings it too close to the white dwarf, it can become tidally disrupted or even collide with the white dwarf. Such an event strips away the hydrogen and helium envelope of the planet. Roughly half of the stripped material forms an accretion disk around the white dwarf and the other half gets flung out of the system.The accreted hydrogen undergoes nuclear burning on ...

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