A planetary fragment orbits the star SDSS J122859.93+104032.9, leaving a tail of gas in its wake. Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick
A fragment of a planet that has survived the death of its star has been discovered by University of Warwick astronomers, in the United Kingdom, in a disk of debris formed from destroyed planets, which the star ultimately consumes.
The iron and nickel rich planetesimal survived a system-wide cataclysm that followed the death of its host star, SDSS J122859.93+104032.9. Believed to have once been part of a larger planet, its survival is all the more astonishing as it orbits closer to its star than previously thought possible, going around it once every two hours.
The discovery, reported in the journal Science, is the first time that scientists have used spectroscopy to discover a solid body in orbit around a white dwarf, using subtle variations in the emitted light to identify additional gas that the planetesimal is generating.
Using the Gran Telescopio Canarias in La Palma, Spain, the scientists studied a debris disk orbiting a white dwarf 410 light years away, formed by the disruption of rocky bodies composed of elements such as iron, magnesium, silicon, and oxygen – the ...