(ORDO NEWS) — A white dwarf 86 light-years from Earth is right now turning its planets into asteroidal scum, like Kronos devouring his own offspring.
This behavior is not entirely unusual for white dwarfs. But this particular star, called G238-44, is a real glutton: for the first time, astronomers have seen one of these stars gobbling up matter from both the inner and outer reaches of its planetary system at the same time, reaching even to the most remote regions.
In the atmosphere of G238-44, astronomers have found traces of elements that suggest that the dead star had recently accreted metals and minerals similar in composition to asteroids in the solar system, as well as ice similar to formations in the outer Kuiper belt.
“We have never seen both of these types of objects accrete on a white dwarf at the same time,” admitted physicist and astronomer Ted Johnson from the University of California at Los Angeles. “By studying these white dwarfs, we hope to better understand planetary systems that are still intact.”
White dwarfs are what happens when an ordinary star, eight times the mass of the Sun, reaches the end of its life. As soon as such a star runs out of material to melt, it swells up to the size of a red giant, and then sheds its outer shell.
The stellar core in the process collapses under the influence of gravity, forming a dense object, shining brightly with the light of residual heat. This is the white dwarf.
In a few billion years, the Sun will swell so much that even Mars will be swallowed up. And although it seems that no planet is experiencing such a catastrophe, astronomers have already found evidence in space to the contrary. Exoplanets have been discovered orbiting white dwarfs.
There is a whole area of ”necroplanetologists” – the study of the remains of exoplanets of white dwarfs based on traces of heavy elements contained in them, “polluting” the atmosphere of former stars.
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