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Dwarf Star That's Eating Planets Hasn't Noticed the Earth – Yet

Image: Dwarf Star That's Eating Planets Hasn't Noticed the Earth – Yet
Researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close, as seen in this NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory image. (REUTERS/NASA/Handout)

By    |   Friday, 23 Oct 2015 07:49 AM

A dwarf star is eating planets about 570 light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo, like a real "Star Wars" Death Star, and one likely will be chomping on Earth one of these years.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said researchers recently witnessed "a large, rocky object disintegrating in its death spiral around a distant white dwarf star." A dwarf star is a sun-like star that has reached the end of its life, swelling into a red ball and shedding its outer layer, the center said in a release.

Scientists spotted the phenomenon from NASA's Kepler K2 mission, which looks for stars with a dip in brightness that occur when an orbiting body crosses it.

The research was published this week in the latest issue of the science journal Nature.

"This is something no human has seen before," said Andrew Vanderburg of the astrophysics center. "We're watching a solar system get destroyed."

Space.com said the fading planet was about the size of Ceres, the largest asteroid in Earth's solar system and will be completely destroyed in about a million years. Researchers said the death of the planet and eventually that solar system is likely the future fate of Earth's system.

"What we're seeing are fragments of a disintegrating planet that is being vaporized by (the white dwarf's) starlight and is losing mass," Vanderburg told Space.com. "The vapor is getting lost into orbit, and that condenses into dust which then blocks the starlight."

Compared to Earth's solar system, researchers said the sun will grow to the point that it will eventually engulf Mercury, Venus and probably Earth in about five billion years.

Vanderburg said watching the destruction of the far flung solar system answers a mystery about white drawf stars that exhibit evidence of heavy metals becoming "polluted" when they feed off rocky planets or asteroids.

He said the observed solar system showed a polluted white dwarf, a surrounding debris disk, and at least one compact rocky object.

"We now have a 'smoking gun' linking white dwarf pollution to the destruction of rocky planets," said Vanderburg.


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A dwarf star is eating planets about 570 light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo, like a real "Star Wars" Death Star, and one likely will be chomping on Earth one of these years.
dwarf, star, eating, planets
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2015-49-23
Friday, 23 Oct 2015 07:49 AM
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