(ORDO NEWS) — The white dwarf G238-44, a dead star about 86 light-years from Earth, is actively consuming planetary and asteroid debris preserved in the local Kuiper belt analogue, which contains both a rock-metal and an icy component.
The first case of such “planetary cannibalism” was discovered by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, who used archived data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA satellites and observatories.
They presented their results at a press conference of the American Astronomical Society in Pasadena. This is reported by the NASA portal.
A white dwarf is the core of a burnt-out star, comparable in mass to the Sun, which remains after the star expands to a red giant as hydrogen is exhausted, then sheds its outer layers and shrinks into a compact, gradually cooling object the size of the Earth.
According to study co-author Benjamin Zuckerman, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, the composition of the material falling on G238-44 suggests that icy asteroids may be the most common occurrence among extrasolar planetary systems.
“Life as we know it requires a rocky planet covered in various volatile elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen,” says Zuckerman.
The abundance of elements that we see in this white dwarf, apparently, due to the absorption of such stony remnants and celestial bodies rich in volatile components. And this is the first such case that we have encountered after studying hundreds of white dwarfs.”
Using spectrometers, scientists have been able to detect the presence of nitrogen, oxygen, magnesium, silicon and iron, among other elements, in the white dwarf’s atmosphere.
The discovery of iron in very large quantities indicates that the dwarf has captured the metallic cores of terrestrial planets such as Earth, Venus, Mars, and Mercury. And the unexpectedly high nitrogen content allows us to conclude that a large number of icy bodies are present in the “diet” of the white dwarf.
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