NASA's Kepler shows white dwarf ripping a small planet

While examining the data from Kepler space telescope also known as the K2 mission, researchers have found a white dwarf (dead start) that is killing a small planet which is size of a giant asteroid. The planet is literally being ripped apart as it spirals around the dead star and dust cloud in a spiral geometry due to vaporization of the planet is clearly visible.The astonishing finding validates previous theories which said that white dwarfs can kill as well as vaporize remanent planet that have survived within its solar system. NASA released the image just to mimic what actually is happening with the dying planet.

“We are for the first time witnessing a miniature ‘planet’ ripped apart by intense gravity, being vaporised by starlight and raining rocky material onto its star,” said Andrew Vanderburg from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a Nasa statement.

White dwarfs are remnant of a dead and dense star. Stars when age, they become red giants and tend to lose nearly half of their mass while they become 1/100th of their original size, thus size to mass ratio increases by many folds.

The planet which is nearly the size of a large asteroid is spiraling around the white dwarf named “WD 145+017”, once every 4.5. The planet is formed of dust and rocks and it is facing very high gravitational pull as well as heat. Study authors said that while observing the white dwarf they found large dust cloud circling it which could be made by vaporizing planet.

“The eureka moment of discovery came on the last night of observation with a sudden realization of what was going around the white dwarf. The shape and changing depth of the transit were undeniable signatures,” explained Vanderburg.

While the small planet is being gobbled up by the white dwarf, meanwhile most Earth-like planets are yet to be born, suggests study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of data obtained from Kepler and Hubble telescope, researchers tried to find out where our galaxy Milky Way stands in the timeline chart. Researchers found that although our galaxy is running out of fuel to form more stars but other galaxies are still in young age and they have more than enough material to produce celestial bodies. Thus, there are very chances that Earth-like bodies might appear in future.

Steve Howell, a K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center said data from K2 is available to entire science community which has led to the discovery and it also points towards serendipitous nature of K2 and what it can do. Researchers are using K2 data for various research works and discoveries in the field of astronomy and astrophysics.

The study appeared in the journal Nature.

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