Lifeless star caught violently tearing aside planetary system

This illustration reveals a white dwarf star siphoning particles from damaged objects in a planetary system. The Hubble House Telescope detects the spectral signature of vaporized particles that exposed a mix of rocky-metallic and icy supplies, the elements 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 have been recognized among the many particles on the floor of a white dwarf star

“Deliver out your useless! rings within the air within the basic movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, a joyous parallel to what occurs 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.


A star’s agony has disrupted its planetary system so violently that the useless star left behind, referred to as a white dwarf, siphons particles each inside and outdoors the system. It is the primary time astronomers have noticed a white dwarf star that consumes each metallic and icy rocky materials, the elements of planets. Archival information from NASA’s Hubble House Telescope and different NASA observatories had been key to diagnosing this case of cosmic cannibalism. The findings assist describe the violent nature of advanced planetary techniques and may inform astronomers concerning the composition of newly fashioned techniques. Credit score: NASA Goddard House Flight Heart; Primary producer: Paul Morris

Lifeless star caught tearing aside planetary system

A star’s agony has disrupted its planetary system so violently that the useless star left behind, referred to as a white dwarf, siphons particles each inside and outdoors the system. It is the primary time astronomers have noticed a white dwarf star that consumes each metallic and icy rocky materials, the elements of planets.

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

The findings are based mostly on evaluation of fabric captured from the ambiance of close by white dwarf star G238-44. A white dwarf is what stays of a star like our Solar after it has misplaced its outer layers and stopped burning gas via nuclear fusion. “We’ve by no means seen these two varieties of objects accumulate on a white dwarf on the identical time,” mentioned Ted Johnson, principal investigator and up to date graduate of the College of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “By finding out these white dwarfs, we hope to higher perceive the planetary techniques which are nonetheless intact.”

Planetary system G238-44

This illustrated diagram of the planetary system G238-44 traces its destruction. The small white dwarf star is on the middle of the motion. A really faint accretion disk is made up of damaged physique components falling onto the white dwarf. The remaining asteroids and planetary our bodies represent a reservoir of matter surrounding the star. Bigger gasoline large planets should exist within the system. A lot additional out is a belt of icy our bodies comparable to comets, which additionally finally feed the useless star. Credit score: NASA, ESA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

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

“Life as we all know it requires a rocky planet coated in quite a lot of components like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen,” mentioned Benjamin Zuckerman, UCLA professor and co-author. “The abundance of components we see on this white dwarf seems to necessitate each a rocky and volatile-rich guardian physique – the primary instance we have discovered amongst research of a whole bunch of white dwarfs.”

demolition derby

Theories of planetary system evolution describe the transition between the phases of a pink large star and a white dwarf as a chaotic course of. The star is quickly dropping its outer layers and the orbits of its planets are altering dramatically. Small objects, comparable to asteroids and dwarf planets, can enterprise too shut to large planets and be despatched plummeting in the direction of the star. This research confirms the true magnitude of this violent chaotic part, exhibiting that inside 100 million years of the beginning of its white dwarf part, the star is able to concurrently capturing and consuming materials from its asteroid belt. and Kuiper belt-like areas.

The estimated complete mass in the end engulfed by the white dwarf on this research might not be larger than the mass of an asteroid or small moon. Though the presence of no less than two objects that the white dwarf consumes will not be straight measured, it’s doubtless that one is wealthy in metals like an asteroid and the opposite is an icy physique much like what we discovered on the outskirts of our photo voltaic system within the Kuiper belt. .

Though astronomers have cataloged greater than 5,000 exoplanets, the one planet of which we now have direct information of its inside composition is Earth. White dwarf cannibalism gives a novel alternative to disassemble planets and see what they had been made from after they fashioned across the star.

The group measured the presence of nitrogen, oxygen, magnesium, silicon and iron, amongst different components. The detection of iron in very nice abundance is proof of the metallic cores of telluric planets, such because the 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.

Leave a Comment