03/05/2012 11:57 BST | Updated 03/05/2012 13:06 BST

White Dwarf Stars Consume Earth-Like Exoplanets: PICTURES

Four white dwarfs have been spotted with the disintegrated remains of Earth-like exoplanets.

The stars appear to have consumed the exoplanets, which according to astrophysicists from the University of Warwick, once bore striking similarities to the composition of the Earth.

More than 80 white dwarf stars were surveyed by the university, using the cosmic origin spectrograph onboard the Hubble space telescope.

"What we are seeing today in these white dwarfs several hundred light years away could well be a snapshot of the very distant future of the Earth," said professor Boris Gänsicke of the University of Warwick, who led the study.

"As stars like our Sun reach the end of their life, they expand to become red giants when the nuclear fuel in their cores is depleted. When this happens in our own solar system, billions of years from now, the Sun will engulf the inner planets Mercury and Venus," he said.

According to the university, when suns transform into white dwarf stars, they lose large amounts of mass, pushing planets away.

This can then destabilise existing orbits and lead to planets, moons and stars colliding, as happened in the early days of our solar system.

Terrestrial planets like earth could even shatter like so much Brighton rock, forming new asteroid belts.

But will this happen to our planet?

“In our solar system, Jupiter will survive the late evolution of the Sun unscathed, and scatter asteroids, new or old, towards the white dwarf. It’s unclear whether the Earth will also be swallowed up by the Sun in its red giant phase - but even if it survives, its surface will be roasted," Gänsicke said.


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