The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s K2 mission, which employs the Kepler space telescope in a repurposed fashion, has discovered “strong evidence” of a white dwarf star cannibalizing a miniature planet — adding further validation to the long-held theory that white dwarfs have the ability to cannibalize possible remnants planets remaining within their solar system.
The team of scientists behind the discovery reported their findings in a paper published in the journal Nature. According to the paper’s lead author, graduate student Andrew Vanderburg with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, the miniature ‘planet’ — a tiny, rocky object in space — is literally being “ripped apart” by gravity and “vaporized by starlight” while it spirals around the white dwarf it orbits.
We are for the first time witnessing a miniature “planet” ripped apart by intense gravity, being vaporized by starlight and raining rocky material onto its star
Vanderburg, who led the research team, was quoted by NASA as having said that the “eureka moment of discovery came on the last night of observation with a sudden realization of what was going around the white dwarf.”
The eureka moment of discovery came on the last night of observation with a sudden realization of what was going around the white dwarf. The shape and changing depth of the transit were undeniable signatures
White dwarfs are what stars such as our Sun turn into following the exhaustion of their nuclear fuel. Near the end of their nuclear burning stage, they expel the majority of their outer material, which results in a planetary nebula. What remains is the star’s incredibly hot core.
The cosmic object being cannibalized is estimated to be roughly the size of a large asteroid. It orbits its white dwarf, WD 1145+017, once every four and a half hours.
Steve Howell, a K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, was quoted by the space agency as having said that the discovery “highlights the power and serendipitous nature of K2.”
This discovery highlights the power and serendipitous nature of K2. The science community has full access to K2 observations and is using these data to make a wide range of unique discoveries across the full range of astrophysics phenomena
WD 1145+017 isn’t the only cannibal star in space, as astronomers observed a star nicknamed “Nasty 1” engaging in stellar cannibalism — an observation which was made earlier this year.