White Dwarf

Hubble Finds Big Brother of Halley’s Comet – Ripped Apart By White Dwarf

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February 9, 2017
European Space Agency News Release 


Siyi Xu
European Southern Observatory
Garching bei München, Germany

Mathias Jäger
ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
Garching, Germany
 

This artist’s impression shows a massive, comet-like object falling towards a white dwarf. New observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show evidence for a belt of comet-like bodies orbiting the white dwarf, similar to the Kuiper Belt in our own Solar System. The findings also suggest the presence of one or more unseen surviving planets around the white dwarf which may have perturbed the belt sufficiently to hurl icy objects into the burned-out star. Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levy (STScI)

 

The international team of astronomers observed the white dwarf WD 1425+540, about 170 light-years from Earth in the constellation Boötes (the Herdsman) [1]. While studying the white dwarf’s atmosphere using both the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory the team found evidence that an object rather like a massive comet was falling onto the star, getting tidally disrupted while doing so.

The team determined that the object had a chemical composition similar to the famous Halley’s Comet in our own Solar System, but it was 100,000 times more massive and had twice the proportion of water as its local counterpart. Spectral analysis showed that the destroyed object was rich in the elements essential for life, including carbon, oxygen, sulphur and even nitrogen [2].

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