For the first time in history, astronomers have been able to observe how the death of solar systems occurs, according to phys.org, citing a publication in the journal Nature. The observations were made using Chandra, NASA's space observatory, which explores space in the X-ray range.
It is known that about 97% of all stars in the Milky Way at the end of their lives turn into white dwarfs - crystalline cores, the mass of which is equal to the mass of the Sun, and the size does not exceed the size of the Earth. Before becoming a white dwarf, the star burning the remaining fuel manages to be a red giant, and then sheds its outer shell - a planetary nebula, and a white dwarf is born in the core.
Most stars, including the Sun, are destined to become white dwarfs. More than 300,000 white dwarf stars have been discovered in our galaxy, and many of them were thought to be accumulating debris from planets and other objects that once orbited them. Studies of the composition of nearby white dwarfs have shown that their atmosphere is littered with heavy metals, iron, calcium, magnesium, which means that the star has swallowed up the former rocky planets. However, all this evidence until recently was indirect.
The authors of a new study studied the white dwarf G29-38, which is located 45 light years from Earth in the constellation Pisces and has an atmosphere polluted by metals. They detected X-rays from the white dwarf and found that the plasma on its surface had heated up to 1 million degrees Celsius. These data are in perfect agreement with models that describe planetary bodies crashing into white dwarfs and prove that white dwarfs do indeed suck in and consume the remains of the planets that once orbited them. When the material left from the planet is attracted to the star at high speed, it crashes into its surface and forms heated plasma upon impact. This plasma then settles on the surface and, as it cools, emits X-rays, which the telescope detected.
The X-ray flashes that the telescope recorded occurred billions of years after the formation of the planetary system G29-38. A similar fate may await the Earth when our sun begins to die.