The NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered white dwarf G238-44 tearing up its planetary system by siphoning off debris from both the system’s inner and outer reaches. This is actually the first time astronomers have observed this phenomenon, especially one that is consuming both rocky-metallic and icy material, the ingredients of planets.
A white dwarf is essentially the of a star like our Sun after it sheds its outer layers and stops burning fuel though nuclear fusion. These findings are also significant because small icy objects are credited for crashing into and “irrigating” dry, rocky planets in our solar system. In related news, this is the first image of another multi-planet solar system orbiting another sun-like star.
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Life as we know it requires a rocky planet covered with a variety of elements like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. The abundances of the elements we see on this white dwarf appear to require both a rocky and a volatile-rich parent body – the first example we’ve found among studies of hundreds of white dwarfs,” said Benjamin Zuckerman, UCLA professor and co-author.