For the first time ever, a camera recorded how a white dwarf or technically dead star rips apart buzzing asteroid. The white dwarf, which is an old star that ran out of fuel, was detected by the Very Large Telescope in Chile.
In the meantime, the telescope caught another interesting thing – a glowing halo around the star, which emerged after the fatal encounter with the asteroid.
Astronomers at the University of Warwick’s Astrophysics Group believe that the findings may reveal what would happen to our solar system when the sun shuts down. Scientists explained that what happened around the dwarf star dubbed SDSS1228+1040 is very similar to how planet Saturn’s rings formed, yet on a much larger scale.
Christopher Manser, lead author of the findings, estimated that the glowing debris ring around the white dwarf is 435,000 mile-wide. This means that the ring could fit both Saturn and its rings whose diameter is only about 160,000 miles. Nevertheless, while the dead star is seven times tinnier than Saturn, it is 2,500 times heavier.
The research team said that debris clouds around white dwarfs were not a common phenomenon. So far, only seven similar objects were detected. Researchers believe that an asteroid that came dangerously close to the dwarf star was ripped apart by the star’s tremendous tidal forces. In the wake of the explosion, a vast ring of debris and dust particles was created around the star.
Researchers also explained that the dark red glow of the debris ring is caused by the ultraviolet rays emitted by the star. Manser said that scientists knew about the presence of such eerie rings around white dwarfs for more than two decades, but it is only now that one such ring was captured by a camera.
The research team explained that they used the same technology used in Computed Tomography (CT) to obtain the first photos of the ring. So, they had to first take many shots from different angles and combine them into an image on a computer.
But a CT machine usually slowly moves around the patient, which astronomers couldn’t do to their white dwarf. Instead, they collected data on the UV light emitted by the dead star and the surrounding debris ring for more than twelve years.
Researchers acknowledged that from a single shot they wouldn’t have been able to obtain an accurate view of the disc-like system. Within the disc they noticed a spiral-like structure which was probably triggered by collisions between dust particles in the ring.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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