In a situation which is a dream or even a nightmare come true for every Star Wars fan, a real life “Death Star” is currently disintegrating a minor planet in its orbit.
Just to be clear unlike the Star Wars’ “Death Star” this one is not a menacing space station with the power to destroy planets with a super laser, but a white dwarf star which has been nicknamed as such. Harvard scientists have made an unprecedented discovery: a faraway “Death Star” has been spotted actively disintegrating a nearby planet in its orbit, which is about the size of Ceres, the largest space body in the asteroid belt. “This is something no human has seen before,” lead researcher Andrew Vanderburg said in a statement. Vanderburg and his team show the object in an orbit 837,000 kilometres from the white dwarf
. The phenomenon which is being recorded by NASA’s K2 Kepler satellite; shows the white dwarf star’s brightness is fluctuating every 4.5 hours
and this is the fact which drew NASA’s attention towards it.
On further interrogating the ‘destruction site’ by using the data collected from K2 and other sources, the researchers also found that heavy metal debris was “polluting” the space around the star.
Describing the destructive scene, John Johnson, who is the co-author of study said:
It’s like panning for gold—the heavy stuff sinks to the bottom. These metals should sink into the white dwarf’s interior where we can’t see them.
Giving a more descriptive version of the scene, Vanderburg added:
We now have a ‘smoking gun’ linking white dwarf pollution to the destruction of rocky planets.
White Dwarfs are the dead remains of stars. A typical white dwarf is about as massive as the Sun, yet only slightly bigger than the Earth. When stars run out of hydrogen fuel, they start to cool and expand into a massive red giant. Afterwards they shrink into a white dwarf.
While the future of our sun would also be similar, fortunately for us it will take nearly four to five billion years for the sun to reach that point and become a white dwarf.