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A team of scientists from the University of Warwich in the United Kingdom observed for the first time the remains of the collision between a dead planet and its deceased star, a white dwarf.
The observations, captured by the Chandra space telescope, constitute the first real evidence of the disintegration process involving a star and the planets that orbit it, an event that is expected to occur with the Earth and our Sun in several billions of years. years.
“This detection provides the first direct evidence that white dwarfs accumulate the remnants of old planetary systems,” said in a statement Tim Cunningham, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Warwich and author of the study, published in the magazine Nature.
In the past, scientists have collected indirect evidence about what happened to the remains of a disintegrating planet and its fall to a white dwarf, a type of star that burned up all its fuel.
However, thanks to X-ray observations made with the Chandra space telescope, scientists observed the remnants of planets heated to more than a million degrees Kelvin as they fell on the core of a white dwarf. This process is known as accretion.
“In the past, measurements of accretion rates were obtained by spectroscopy and always on simulated white dwarf models,” Cunningham explained.
“Accretion rate is a numerical model used to calculate how fast an element sinks into the dwarf’s atmosphere, which tells us how much falls into its atmosphere. With this data, we can calculate how much of an element was in the observed body, such as a planet, moon, or asteroid,” she added.
According to the expert, when an object falls into the core of a white dwarf, the material is heated to a temperature of between 100,000 and one million Kelvin degrees, which, when cooled, produce X-rays that can be detected by telescopes such as Chandra.
“Calculating the rate of accretion in this way allows us to study a dying system, thus looking at the likely fate of thousands of expolanary systems, including our Solar System,” Cunningham concluded.