Nov 23, 2021 - Science

Last blasts of a dying star

The white dwarf KPD 0005+5106 seen in X-ray. Photo: NASA/CXC/ASIAA/Y.-H. Chu, et al.
The white dwarf KPD 0005+5106 seen in X-ray. Photo: NASA/CXC/ASIAA/Y.-H. Chu, et al.

A white dwarf star 1,300 light-years from Earth is blasting out radiation and ripping apart a companion in its orbit.

Why it matters: One day, scientists think the Sun will burn through its fuel and become a dense white dwarf. By learning more about this star, astronomers might be able to get a better sense of the future of our solar system.

What's happening: A study in The Astrophysical Journal suggests the white dwarf KPD 0005+5106 actually plays host to a companion — either a low-mass star or a planet.

  • Researchers think X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA's XMM-Newton suggests the white dwarf's companion could be a planet with half of the mass of Jupiter.
  • That planet's material is being pulled from the world into the atmosphere of the white dwarf and it would only survive for "a few hundred million years before eventually being destroyed," according to a press release.
  • "This is a slow demise for this object that's basically being ripped apart by constant gravitational forces," Martín A. Guerrero, of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain, and an author of the study said in the statement. "It would be a very unpleasant place to be."

The big picture: The white dwarf is actually one of the hottest known white dwarf stars, with a surface temperature of 360,000°F. (The Sun's temperature is about 10,000°F, for comparison.)

  • "This companion object is about 500,000 miles away from the white dwarf, only about one-thirtieth of the distance from Mercury to the Sun," Jesús Toala of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and a co-author of the study, said in the statement.
  • "Whatever this object is, it's getting blasted with heat."
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