According to scientists massive alien planet that may have been ripped into Earth-size
chunks by its dying parent star is offering a unique glimpse into the evolution of other worlds and their stars. The planet’s two remaining pieces, which researchers tentatively identified as planet-size objects just slightly smaller than Earth, were possibly created when their parent body spiraled inward too close to the bloated red giant star KIC 05807616. Extreme tidal forces then tore the parent planet into pieces, some of which seem to have stabilized in orbit around the star, revealing that a planet’s life doesn’t always start and end neatly. Once a common star like the sun, KIC 05807616 swelled into a red giant as it reached the end of its life. The gas surrounding it ballooned outward, engulfing any alien planets that lay too close. But one gas giant may have escaped complete destruction. By spiraling in through the star’s shell, the planet’s massive girth would have allowed it to function the same way a companion star might, stripping off the excess gas and allowing the star to contract to a more manageable size. At the same time, tidal forces would have ripped the giant planet to shreds, creating at least two rocks only a little smaller than Earth. Known as KOI 55.01 and KOI 55.02, the two planets orbit the sun between 550,000 and 700,000 miles (900,000 to 1,100,000 km), far closer than Mercury, and too hot to hold water on their surface. While much of the giant planet flew into space, or into the star, other pieces may also have been caught in orbit. When KOI 55.01 and KOI 55.02 were first identified, the presence of a third was also tentatively noted. If other pieces are found, it would strengthen the idea that the two rocky planets formed from a single object.