The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted evidence of a white dwarf star devouring rocky and icy material from its own system, suggesting that water and other volatiles may be common in the outer reaches of planetary systems.
The astronomers used archival data from the The Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories to analyze the spectral properties of the white dwarf star G238-44. Elements detected on the star’s surface show that the dead star is siphoning debris into and out of its system.
“We’ve never seen these two types of objects pile up on a white dwarf at the same time,” said Ted Johnson, lead researcher and recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. statement. “By studying these white dwarfs, we hope to better understand the planetary systems that are still intact.”
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Observing this cosmic dance of death offers a unique opportunity to see what the planets were made of when they formed around the star and to confirm ideas about the violent and chaotic final stages of similar systems.
G238-44 is an ancient solar star that shed its outer layers and stopped burning fuel through nuclear fusion. The discovery that the Stellar Corpse simultaneously captures materials from its asteroid belt and Kuiper Belt-like regions, including icy bodies, is important because it suggests that a “pool of water” might be a common feature at the edges of planetary systems.
“Life as we know it requires a rocky planet covered in a variety of elements, such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen,” said Benjamin Zuckerman, professor emeritus in the division of astronomy and science. astrophysics from UCLA and co-author of the research. “The abundance of elements we see on this white dwarf appears to necessitate both a rocky and volatile-rich parent body – the first example we’ve found among studies of hundreds of white dwarfs.”
The research group included astronomers from UCLA; the University of California, San Diego; and the University of Kiel in Germany. The team’s findings were presented June 15 at an American Astronomical Society press conference.
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