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White dwarf star mining debris

This illustration reveals a white dwarf star extracting particles from shattered objects in a planetary system. The Hubble House Telescope detects the spectral signature of the vaporized particles that exposed a mixture of rocky-metallic and icy materials, the components of planets. The findings assist describe the violent nature of advanced planetary techniques and the composition of their disintegrating our bodies. Credit score: NASA, ESA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

Rocky, icy our bodies recognized among the many particles on the floor of a white dwarf star

“Deliver your lifeless!” echoes via the air within the basic film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a joyous parallel to what goes on round a[{” attribute=””>white dwarf star in a nearby planetary system. The dead star is “ringing” its own bell, calling out to the “dead” to collect at its footsteps. The white dwarf is all that remains after a Sun-like star has exhausted its nuclear fuel and expelled most of its outer material – decimating objects in the planetary system that orbit it. What’s left is a band of players with unpredictable orbits that – despite protests that they “aren’t dead yet!” – will ultimately be captured by the central star.

How do we know? The bodies consumed by the star leave telltale “fingerprints” – caught by the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA observatories – on its surface. The spectral evidence shows that the white dwarf is siphoning off both rocky-metallic and icy material – debris from both its system’s inner and outer reaches. Uncovering evidence of icy bodies is intriguing, since it implies that a “water reservoir” might be common on the edges of planetary systems, improving the chances for the emergence of life as we know it.


The demise throes of a star have disrupted its planetary system so violently that the lifeless star left behind, known as a white dwarf, is pulling particles from each inside and outdoors the system. That is the primary time astronomers have noticed a white dwarf star consuming icy, rocky-metallic materials, the components of planets. Archival information from NASA’s Hubble House Telescope and different NASA observatories had been important in diagnosing this case of cosmic cannibalism. The findings assist describe the violent nature of advanced planetary techniques and might inform astronomers in regards to the composition of newly shaped techniques. Credit score: NASA Goddard House Flight Heart; Lead Producer: Paul Morris

Trapped lifeless star destroying planetary system

The demise throes of a star have disrupted its planetary system so violently that the lifeless star left behind, known as a white dwarf, is pulling particles from each inside and outdoors the system. That is the primary time astronomers have noticed a white dwarf star consuming icy, rocky-metallic materials, the components of planets.

Archival information from NASA’s Hubble House Telescope and different NASA observatories had been important in diagnosing this case of cosmic cannibalism. The findings assist describe the violent nature of advanced planetary techniques and might inform astronomers in regards to the composition of newly shaped techniques.

The findings are primarily based on evaluation of fabric captured by the environment of the close by white dwarf star G238-44. A white dwarf is what stays of a star like our Solar after it sheds its outer layers and stops burning gas via nuclear fusion. “We have by no means seen these two kinds of objects cluster on a white dwarf on the identical time,” stated lead researcher Ted Johnson, a latest graduate of the College of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “By finding out these white dwarfs, we hope to realize a greater understanding of planetary techniques which are nonetheless intact.”

Planetary System G238-44

This illustrated diagram of the G238-44 planetary system traces its destruction. The little white dwarf star is within the thick of the motion. A really faint accretion disk is shaped by the shattered physique fragments falling on the white dwarf. The remaining asteroids and planetary our bodies kind a reservoir of fabric that surrounds the star. Bigger fuel big planets should still exist within the system. A lot additional out is a belt of icy our bodies like comets, which finally additionally feed the lifeless star. Credit score: NASA, ESA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

The findings are additionally intriguing as a result of small icy objects have been credited with colliding with dry, rocky planets in our photo voltaic system and “irrigating” them. Billions of years in the past, comets and asteroids are believed to have introduced water to Earth, creating the circumstances mandatory for all times as we all know it. The composition of the our bodies detected raining down on the white dwarf implies that icy deposits may very well be frequent amongst planetary techniques, Johnson stated.

“Life as we all know it requires a rocky planet coated with quite a lot of parts corresponding to carbon, nitrogen and oxygen,” stated Benjamin Zuckerman, a UCLA professor and co-author. “The abundance of the weather we see on this white dwarf seems to require a guardian physique that’s each rocky and volatile-rich, the primary instance we’ve discovered amongst research of lots of of white dwarfs.”

demolition derby

Theories of planetary system evolution describe the transition between the phases of a crimson big star and a white dwarf as a chaotic course of. The star quickly loses its outer layers and the orbits of its planets change dramatically. Small objects like asteroids and dwarf planets can enterprise too shut to large planets and plummet towards the star. This research confirms the true scale of this violent chaotic section, exhibiting that inside 100 million years after the beginning of its white dwarf section, the star is able to concurrently capturing and consuming materials from its asteroid belt and asteroid-like areas. Kuiper belt.

The estimated whole mass finally engulfed by the white dwarf on this research could also be not more than the mass of an asteroid or small moon. Whereas the presence of not less than two objects that the white dwarf consumes isn’t straight measured, it’s probably that one is metal-rich like an asteroid and one other is an icy physique much like the one discovered on the fringes of our photo voltaic system previously. Kuiper belt. .

Though astronomers have cataloged greater than 5,000 exoplanets, the one planet for which we’ve any direct information of its inside composition is Earth. White dwarf cannibalism offers a novel alternative to take planets aside and see what they had been product of once they first shaped across the star.

The workforce measured the presence of nitrogen, oxygen, magnesium, silicon and iron, amongst different parts. The detection of iron in abundance is proof of metallic cores of terrestrial planets, like Earth,[{” attribute=””>Venus, Mars, and Mercury. Unexpectedly high nitrogen abundances led them to conclude the presence of icy bodies. “The best fit for our data was a nearly two-to-one mix of Mercury-like material and comet-like material, which is made up of ice and dust,” Johnson said. “Iron metal and nitrogen ice each suggest wildly different conditions of planetary formation. There is no known solar system object with so much of both.”

Death of a Planetary System

When a star like our Sun expands into a bloated red giant late in its life, it will shed mass by puffing off its outer layers. One consequence of this can be the gravitational scattering of small objects like asteroids, comets, and moons by any remaining large planets. Like pinballs in an arcade game, the surviving objects can be thrown into highly eccentric orbits.

“After the red giant phase, the white dwarf star that remains is compact – no larger than Earth. The wayward planets end up getting very close to the star and experience powerful tidal forces that tear them apart, creating a gaseous and dusty disk that eventually falls onto the white dwarf’s surface,” Johnson explained.

The researchers are looking at the ultimate scenario for the Sun’s evolution, 5 billion years from now. Earth might be completely vaporized along with the inner planets. But the orbits of many of the asteroids in the main asteroid belt will be gravitationally perturbed by Jupiter and will eventually fall onto the white dwarf that the remnant Sun will become.

For over two years, the research group at UCLA, the University of California, San Diego, and the Kiel University in Germany, has worked to unravel this mystery by analyzing the elements detected on the white dwarf star cataloged as G238-44. Their analysis includes data from NASA’s retired Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE), the Keck Observatory’s High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) in Hawaii, and the Hubble Space Telescope’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).

The team’s results were presented at an American Astronomical Society (AAS) press conference on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.


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