White Dwarf Death Star Seen Destroying Its Own Planet

Posted: Oct 22 2015, 5:02am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 22 2015, 5:14am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

White Dwarf Death Star Seen Destroying its own Planet
In this illustration, a Ceres-like asteroid slowly disintegrates while orbiting a white dwarf star (death star). / Credit: Mark A. Garlick

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A death star was seen to annihilate a nearby planet. This is a rare occurrence that has all the astronomers and scientists in a tizzy.

It is actually a white dwarf. Yet scientists have made a comparison between it and the death star. And it incinerated a small planet near it. In real life, a death star is dead for all purposes.

White dwarves are relics of stars that looked pretty much like our sun. Before it becomes a white dwarf, our sun will expand into a huge red giant. Then the process of shrinkage will take place.

The research points to the first signs of a planet seen circling a white dwarf. And it is approximately 570 light years away from earth. This planet is in close proximity to its dead neighbor. It orbits it in about 4.5 hours.

However, since it is so close to the so-called death star, it is being destroyed in the process. When seen through the lens of a telescope, the planetoid was fragmented into loose rubble that floated in space. The Kepler telescope revealed this strange and rare find. From light patterns so far away, scientists decoded that an odd object was near it.

According to the study, this is suggestive of a cloudy mass of debris from the crumbling planet. It is literally being pulled apart in different directions by the white dwarf’s gravitational force.

This is an act that has been seldom seen before. We are actually in the process of observing a whole solar system undergo disintegration. Another thing which got noted down was that since white dwarves possessed such strong gravitational force, they attracted heavy elements towards their center. Calcium, silicon and iron were pulled towards its core while helium and hydrogen were left to float around on the surface.

Other white dwarves have heavy elements on their surface though. And this might be a sign of other bodies nearby which also got pulverized in the process. Since the past ten years, the main line of thought was that white dwarves crushed the remains of rocks and planets near them.

With this recent observation, that theory may get ratified with certainty. Nevertheless, a lot more needs to be done before we can reach any final conclusion. Science is after all never a static process. It keeps undergoing paradigm shifts with the passage of time.

This study published on Wednesday in Nature.

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