Scientists solve decades old space mystery

Posted by er134 at Mar 26, 2014 10:31 AM |
New theory advanced for how collapsed stars become polluted – pointing to ominous fate that awaits planet Earth
Scientists solve decades old space mystery

Artist’s impression of debris around a white dwarf star. Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, and G. Bacon (STScI)

White Dwarf
Artist’s impression of a massive asteroid belt in orbit around a star. The new work with SDSS data shows that similar rubble around many white dwarfs contaminates these stars with rocky material and water. Image credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech / T. Pyle (SSC)
A decades old space mystery has been solved by an international team of astronomers led by Professor Martin Barstow of our Department of Physics and Astronomy and President-elect of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Scientists investigated hot, young, white dwarfs — the super-dense remains of Sun-like stars that ran out of fuel and collapsed to about the size of the Earth. Their research is featured in MNRAS- the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, published by Oxford University Press.

It has been known that many hot white dwarfs atmospheres, essentially of pure hydrogen or pure helium, are contaminated by other elements – like carbon, silicon and iron.

Professor Barstow said: “The new work indicates that at around a one-third of all hot white dwarfs are contaminated in this way, with the debris most likely in the form of rocky minor planet analogues. This implies that a similar proportion of stars like our Sun, as well as stars that are a little more massive like Vega and Fomalhaut, build systems containing terrestrial planets.  This work is a form of celestial archaeology where we are studying the 'ruins' of rocky planets and/or their building blocks, following the demise of the main star."

 

The study also points to the ultimate fate of the Earth billions of years from now- ending up as a contamination within the white dwarf Sun.