Scientists Discover Mysterious Remains of the Solar System in Deep Space

Scientists Discover Mysterious Remains of the Solar System in Deep Space

We know that space is full of mystery. Adding intrigue, astronomers recently discovered an ancient solar system very different from our cosmic home.

About 90 light-years away, the researchers spotted a more than 10-billion-year-old white dwarf star — meaning the remaining hot core of a dead star is similar to the Sun – which is surrounded by a graveyard of disintegrated chunks of planets, called planetesimals. The faint star has brought in debris from these objects. But this solar system is unlike anything around us. It is teeming with elements like lithium and potassium. Crucial, no planets in our solar system have such a composition.

Why was this ancient solar system in our early? galaxy so different? How did it become rich in these materials, which were rare at the time?

“It’s a complete mystery,” Abbigail Elms, a doctoral student at the University of Warwick who studies white dwarfs, told Mashable. The investigation was: published this week in the scientific journal Monthly Notices from the Royal Astronomical Society.

As mentioned above, this solar system is: old. That means the white dwarf (named WDJ2147-4035) and the surrounding solar system formed and died before the sun and Earth were even born. In fact, the chunks are former planets around WDJ2147-4035 the oldest planetesimals ever found in our galaxy around a white dwarf, Elms noted.

How do astronomers know what this archaic solar system consisted of?

They discovered this white dwarf, and another of the same age, using a observatory in space called Gaia. As it orbits the sun, this distant spacecraft maps stars and galaxies in the cosmos. After seeing these white dwarfs, the researchers turned to an instrument called the “X-Shooter,” located at high altitudes in Chile, to detect what is and isn’t present in the stars’ atmospheres (X -Shooter is a type of a very valuable astronomical instrument called a “spectrometer”). In WDJ2147-4035, they found that chemicals such as lithium, potassium and sodium had accumulated — or had been pulled by gravity and gathered around the old star. White dwarfs are made of hydrogen or helium, so the rocky remnants of planets were responsible for providing the other unique elements, the researchers concluded (by running simulations of this solar system’s evolution).

chunks of planets orbiting white dwarf stars

An artistic concept of chunks of planets (planetesimals) orbiting white dwarf stars.
Credit: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

Interestingly, the other white dwarf (WDJ1922+0233) they discovered was significantly different from the mysterious one. It’s more familiar. They determined that this star had attracted planetary debris resembling Earth’s rocky crust. So while one solar system remains an anomaly, another shows that Earth is not so unique in the cosmos: there are others solar systems kind of like there.

want more science and technical news straight to your inbox? Sign up for Mashable’s Top Stories newsletter Today.

However, these two star systems are filled with burial sites of former planets. More than 95 percent of the stars, like the Sun, evolve into white dwarfs. Towards the end of their lives, they expand into hulking red giants, destroying or disrupting nearby objects. As our sun expands, it will engulf planets like Mercury, Venus, and perhaps even the Earth, before shedding its outer layers. The red giants will leave behind remnants of disintegrated planets and moons. The remaining star itself will be a white dwarf.

This is our cosmic destiny. Just not for a long, long, long time.

“Our sun will evolve into a white dwarf in about 5 billion years,” said Elms.

#Scientists #Discover #Mysterious #Remains #Solar #System #Deep #Space

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *