Astronomers have found the debris of a planetary system that died long before the appearance of the Earth

(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers have discovered something eerie in our cosmic backyard: a long-dead planetary system that was once represented by a relatively small star and Earth-like planets.

The ancient remnant of the star, designated WDJ2147-4035 (red and dim), is now a white dwarf about 90 light-years from Earth . White dwarfs are amazing stellar remnants and the final stage in the evolution of most stars in the universe after they have burned all their fuel.

This discovery is extremely interesting because, according to scientists, our Sun will eventually become a white dwarf too , which means that the discovered destroyed planetary system could be something of a spoiler for the future of the solar system.

“We have found the oldest stellar remnants in the Milky Way, contaminated with debris from planets that once looked like Earth,” said Abigail Elmes, a graduate student at the University of Warwick and lead author of the study.

“It’s amazing to realize that this [death of the discovered system] happened on a scale of ten billion years, which means these planets died long before the Earth formed.”

Planetary dump

Using spectroscopic and photometric data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope, the Dark Energy Survey (DES) and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) X-shooter instrument, the authors of the study determined that the age of the star WDJ2147-4035 is about 10.7 billion years, of which 10.2 billion years it is a white dwarf.

During the determination of the composition of the white dwarf, traces were found:

  • Sodium
  • Lithium
  • Potassium
  • Probably even carbon

All of these are relics of an incomprehensibly ancient planetary system that faced the transformation of the parent star into a white dwarf.

Astronomers have found the debris of a planetary system that died long before the appearance of the Earth 2
Artist’s impression of ancient white dwarfs WDJ2147-4035 (red) and WDJ1922+0233 (blue) surrounded by planetary debris

Another white dwarf, WDJ1922+0233 (a pale blue color provided by a special mixture of hydrogen and helium), which is only slightly younger than WDJ2147-4035, was also the object of observation in the study.

And curiously, the Elms team found that this “blue” white dwarf is polluted with materials whose composition is similar to that of the Earth’s continental crust.

“These metal-polluted stars show that the Earth is not unique, there are other planetary systems with planetary bodies similar to Earth,” Elms added.

The study of two white dwarfs expands our understanding of the history of the formation of rocky planets in the early Universe, when there was significantly less metal. In addition, it also gives a very clear picture of the future of the solar system.


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