YORP effect – Solar radiation


  • When the sun enters its red giant stage in about six billion years, scientists say it will cause a chain reaction of asteroid explosions in the asteroid belt.
  • These small rocky bodies will explode thanks to the YORP effect, a phenomenon in which solar radiation causes rapid changes in the rotation of asteroids.
  • Once the sun has reached its stage as a red giant, it will shrink into a white dwarf.

    In five to six billion years, astronomers say the sun will develop into a even bigger fireball, swallowing nearly half of the solar system. This rapid expansion into her red giant stage is likely to bring down asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

    You can thank the YORP effect. Stars emit infrared radiation into space, which carries momentum in addition to heat and can alter the orbit – a phenomenon known as the Yarkovsky effect – as well as the rotation and orientation of small nearby bodies such as asteroids. The YORP effect, named for the four scientists who contributed to its discovery – Yarkovsky, O’Keefe, Radzievskii and Paddack – was directly observed in 2007, when scientists noticed that the YORP rotation of asteroid 54509 had changed. .

    The asteroids that absorb this dynamic sunlight eventually send it back into space as heat, which creates small amounts of thrust, causing rock bodies to move away from their original path or cause them to spin more and more. faster. Because most asteroids are “rubble heaps” – drops of loose dust, rock and ice – many will not be able to withstand the forces of this increased rotation and will shatter, throwing rocky debris away. in the solar system.

    Stars go through several important stages before eventually dying. Our sun, a yellow dwarf, is currently in the main sequence of its life. At present, the heat emitted by the sun does not have much influence on the rocky bodies of the asteroid. But that could change when our sun begins to expand into the solar system.

    “When a typical star reaches the giant branch stage, its luminosity peaks between 1,000 and 10,000 times the luminosity of our sun.” astrophysicist Dimitri Veras, from the University of Warwick in England, said in a declaration. “The YORP effect in these systems is very violent and acting quickly, on the order of a million years.” Veras leads a team of researchers who published this research last year in the Monthly notices from the Royal Astronomical Society.

    After the branch stage, our bright neighbor will eventually shrink into a super hot, super dense, Earth-sized white dwarf. The rocky debris created during this violent event will begin to form a disc around the star and then eventually be sucked up.

    By then, the damage will already be done. “Not only will our own asteroid belt be destroyed,” said Veras, “but it will happen quickly and violently. And only because of the light from our sun.

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