“When white dwarfs go wild, their planets suffer through the resulting chaos. The evidence shows up later in and around the dying star’s atmosphere after it gobbles up planetary and cometary debris”. That’s the verdict that a team of UCLA astronomers came to after scanning the nearby white dwarf G238-44 in great detail. They detected a case of cosmic cannibalism at this dying star, which is found to be approximately 86 light-years away from Earth.
If that star existed in the place of our Sun, it would have consumed the remains of planets, asteroids, and comets out to the Kuiper Belt. That comprehensive buffet makes this stellar cannibalism one of the most widely noticed.
“We have never seen both of these kinds of objects accreting onto a white dwarf at the same time,” announced lead researcher Ted Johnson, a physics and astronomy graduate of UCLA. “By studying these white dwarfs, we hope to gain a better understanding of planetary systems that are still intact.”
Johnson was working with a team from UCLA, UC San Diego, and the University of Kiel in Germany to research the chemical elements discovered in and around the white dwarf atmosphere. They utilized data from NASA’s retired Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, the Keck Observatory’s High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer in Hawaii, and the Hubble Space Telescope’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. The team detected and computed the presence of nitrogen, oxygen, magnesium, silicon, iron, and other elements.