Death of a planet: Astronomers discover grisly scene of planetary destruction

planetary fragment white dwarf 197160 web 1
An artist’s impression of a planetary fragment orbiting the star SDSS J122859.93+104032.9, leaving a tail of gas in its wake. University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

Could this be the eventual fate of Earth? Astronomers have discovered a grisly scene of planetary destruction, with a fragment of a planet being all that is left circling the dark remains of a dead star.

The dead star, located 400 light-years away from Earth, is called SDSS J122859.93+104032.9 and has suffered a cataclysmic collapse. Astronomers from the University of Warwick, U.K., were looking at the white dwarf and were surprised to see a fragment orbiting it, which they believe is the remains of a planet.

The fact that anything remains of the planet at all is remarkable, as it sits close enough to its star to orbit every two hours. This is “much closer to [the star] than we would expect to find anything still alive,” according to Professor Boris Gaensicke, co-author of the paper from the Department of Physics at University of Warwick, describing the planet fragment as being located “deep into the gravitational well of the white dwarf.”

A white dwarf is the core that remains after a star burns off all its fuel and dies. They are very dense, with a mass similar to our Sun squeezed into a space about the size of our Earth. They do give off faint luminosity, but not because of fusion like live stars — rather, because they emit stored thermal energy.

The team thinks the tough little planetary fragment must be very dense or have considerable internal strength to have survived so close to a white dwarf, which is why they believe it is made of metals like iron and nickel. They calculate that the planet was originally at least a kilometer (0.6 miles) in size and could have been up to a few hundred kilometers (more than 100 miles) across, making it comparable to the largest asteroid that we see in our Solar System.

When our Sun dies, however, we won’t have to worry about our planet being ripped apart by gravity. It will be disintegrated by the expansion of the Sun long before that happens.

“As stars age they grow into red giants, which ‘clean out’ much of the inner part of their planetary system,” Dr Christopher Manser, a Research Fellow in the Department of Physics, said. “In our Solar System, the Sun will expand up to where the Earth currently orbits, and will wipe out Earth, Mercury, and Venus. Mars and beyond will survive and will move further out. The general consensus is that 5-6 billion years from now, our Solar System will be a white dwarf in place of the Sun, orbited by Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the outer planets, as well as asteroids and comets.”

The findings are published in Science.


Starman on Tesla Roadster makes first orbit around sun, braces for loneliness

Starman and his Tesla Roadster, sent by SpaceX to outer space last year, have completed their first orbit around the sun. The people on Earth may be able to catch a glimpse of the cherry-red electric vehicle on November 2020.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe makes a second orbit of the sun, captures solar wind on video

The Parker Solar Probe, launched last year, has completed its second orbit around the sun. To celebrate, the team responsible for the probe has released a video showing solar winds in action.
Emerging Tech

Hubble captures a beautiful cosmic jellyfish made of glowing gas

A new image from Hubble might look like a deep-space jellyfish, but it's not a sign of extraterrestrial life - in fact, it's a planetary nebula called NGC 2022, located in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter).
Emerging Tech

NASA’s satellite projects will study the sun using solar sailing

Small satellites can be used for all sorts of purposes, and NASA has been searching for ideas to push ahead the capabilities of the hardware. The agency has announced two new projects to demonstrate the potential of small satellites.

UPS partners with TuSimple to test self-driving semi-trucks

UPS has been carrying truckloads of goods in self-driving semi-trucks since May. The vehicles are being tested in Arizona routes between Phoenix and Tucson for better service and efficiency for UPS delivery.
Emerging Tech

Astro the dog-inspired quadruped robot can sit, lie down, and… learn?

Move over Spot! Researchers from Florida Atlantic University have built a new dog robot called Astro. Thanks to deep learning technology, it promises to be able to learn just like a real dog.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Racing drones and robotic ping pong trainers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Health & Fitness

We spit in a ton of test tubes to find the best and most unique DNA tests

DNA tests aren’t just limited to ancestry. You can test for your risks for certain diseases, the best workouts and diets for your health and fitness, and more.
Emerging Tech

Artificial tree promises to suck up as much air pollution as a small forest

Startup Biomitech has developed an artificial tree that it claims is capable of sucking up as much air pollution as 368 real trees. It could be a game-changer for cities with limited free space.
Emerging Tech

Mars 2020 rover now has a rotating array of drill bits for sampling Martian rock

Most the key components in the Mars 2020 rover are installed and ready to go. The next phase of construction was to install the bit carousel, an important mechanism for the gathering and sorting of samples from the Martian surface.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects landing site candidates for OSIRIS-Rex to sample asteroid Bennu

Last year, the OSIRIS-REx craft arrived at asteroid Bennu, from which it will collect a sample from the asteroid to be brought back to Earth. Now, the NASA team has selected four potential sites to choose from for the sampling mission.
Emerging Tech

NASA wants to send two more missions to Mars to collect rock samples

With its Mars 2020 mission, NASA hopes to collect samples from the surface of the planet. The challenge is how to get those samples back to Earth. Now, NASA has revealed its plans for two followup missions to Mars.
Emerging Tech

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.
Emerging Tech

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is flaring and no one knows why

At the heart of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. Normally this giant monster is relatively docile, but recently it's been a hotbed of unexpected activity, rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal.