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
The international team of astronomers observed the white dwarf WD 1425+540, about 170 light-years from Earth in the constellation Boötes (the Herdsman) . 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 .