Dead star taken to tear up the planetary system

White dwarf star sucks up debris

This illustration shows a white dwarf star sucking debris from crushed objects in a planetary system. The Hubble Space Telescope detects the spectral signature of the vaporized debris that revealed a combination of rocky-metallic and icy material, the ingredients of planets. The findings help to describe the violent nature of evolved planetary systems and the composition of their disintegrating bodies. Credit: NASA, ESA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

Both rocky and icy bodies were identified among debris on the surface of a white dwarf star

“Get out your dead!” rings in the air in the classic film «Monty Python and the Holy Grail», a cheerful parallel to what happens around 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

The death struggle of a star has so violently disturbed the planetary system that the surviving dead star, called a white dwarf, sucks debris from both the system’s inner and outer reaches. This is the first time astronomers have observed a white dwarf star consuming both rocky-metallic and icy material, the ingredients of planets. Archival data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA observatories were crucial in diagnosing this case of cosmic cannibalism. The findings help to describe the violent nature of evolved planetary systems and can tell astronomers about the composition of newly formed systems. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Main producer: Paul Morris

Dead star caught in tearing up the planetary system

The death struggle of a star has so violently disturbed the planetary system that the surviving dead star, called a white dwarf, sucks debris from both the system’s inner and outer reaches. This is the first time astronomers have observed a white dwarf star consuming both rocky-metallic and icy material, the ingredients of planets.

Archival data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA observatories were crucial in diagnosing this case of cosmic cannibalism. The findings help to describe the violent nature of evolved planetary systems and can tell astronomers about the composition of newly formed systems.

The findings are based on analyzing material captured by the atmosphere of the nearby white dwarf star G238-44. A white dwarf is what is left of a star like our sun after it has ejected its outer layers and stops burning fuel through nuclear fusion. “We have never seen both of these types of objects gather on a white dwarf at the same time,” said Ted Johnson, a senior researcher and recent bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “By studying these white dwarfs, we hope to gain a better understanding of planetary systems that remain intact.”

Planet system G238-44

This illustrated diagram of the planetary system G238-44 traces its destruction. The little white dwarf star is at the center of the action. A very weak accretion disk consists of the pieces of broken bodies that fall on the white dwarf. The remaining asteroids and planetary bodies form a reservoir of material surrounding the star. Larger gas giant planets may still exist in the system. Much further out is a belt of icy bodies like comets, which also eventually feeds the dead star. Credit: NASA, ESA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

The findings are also exciting because small icy objects are credited with crashing into and “irrigating” dry, rocky planets in our solar system. Billions of years ago, it was believed that comets and asteroids provided water to the earth, triggering the conditions necessary for life as we know it. The composition of the bodies that were discovered raining on the white dwarf suggests that icy reservoirs may be common among planetary systems, Johnson said.

“Life as we know it requires a rocky planet covered with a variety of elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen,” said Benjamin Zuckerman, UCLA professor and co-author. “The abundance of elements we see on this white dwarf seem to require both a rocky and a volatile mother body – the first example we have found among studies of hundreds of white dwarfs.”

Demolition Derby

Theories of planetary system evolution describe the transition between a red giant star and white dwarf phases as a chaotic process. The star quickly loses its outer layers and the orbits of the planets change dramatically. Small objects, such as asteroids and dwarf planets, can venture too close to giant planets and be sent falling towards the star. This study confirms the true scale of this violent chaotic phase, and shows that within 100 million years after the beginning of its white dwarf phase, the star is able to simultaneously capture and consume material from its asteroid belt and Kuiper belt-like regions.

The estimated total mass eventually swallowed by the white dwarf in this study may not be more than the mass of an asteroid or small moon. Although the presence of at least two objects that the white dwarf eats is not directly measured, it is likely that one is as metal-rich as an asteroid and another is an icy body similar to that found on the edge of our solar system in the Kuiper Belt. .

Although astronomers have cataloged over 5,000 exoplanets, Earth is the only planet where we have any direct knowledge of its inner composition. The white dwarf cannibalism provides a unique opportunity to take planets apart and see what they were made of when they first formed around the star.

The team measured the presence of nitrogen, oxygen, magnesium, silicon and iron, among other elements. The detection of iron in very high abundance is evidence of metallic nuclei of terrestrial planets, such as Earth,[{” attribute=””>Venus,