24Oct2015

Aussies Detect White Dwarf Star Destroying Solar System

Dwarf

AN Aussie planet watcher has detected what can only be described as The Walking Dead of the astronomy world. Many strange objects have been found but this is massive destruction.

A small Australian factory-built robotic telescope in the Arizona desert has detected a dense, white dwarf star in the process of ripping several planets to smithereens. The findings from the zombie star are the first observation of a solar system in its last legs and have been published in the journal Nature.

Harvard University astrophysicist and lead author Andrew Vanderburg said the phenomenon would change everything we know about the universe. “This is something no human has seen before,” he told The Australian. “We’re watching a solar system get destroyed.”

The white dwarf, known as WD 1145+017, is located about 750 light years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo. When readings obtained from NASA’s Kepler space telescope showed the white dwarf suffered a dip in brightness every four and half hours, astronomers hypothesised an object was orbiting it at a distance of about 840,000 kilometres.

In order to find out more information, they turned to Earth-based telescopes and discovered at least six planet-sized chunks of material orbiting the star at different distances. As each of these moon-sized planetary relics orbit the white dwarf, they disintegrate and pollute its atmosphere with comet-like tails of heavy elements including silicon, calcium, iron and aluminium.

University of NSW physicist and co-author Rob Wittenmyer said planets being destroyed and dumping material on the white dwarf was the best explanation for the detection of these heavy elements. “We knew this sort of thing was happening, but capturing it validates our theories,” he said.

“A planet breaking up close to a white dwarf is a pretty rare event. It might last a few tens of thousands of years. In our world that’s a blink of an eye.” While the occurrence showcases the events leading up to the demise of a solar system, Mr Wittenmyer said it was not something that would happen to ours in the near future. “We’re talking about five billion years,” he said.  Source: News.Com

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