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Asteroid Ripped Apart Forms Glowing Ring System Around White Dwarf

First Posted: Nov 13, 2015 04:35 PM EST
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For the first time, researchers captured the image of a dead star ripping an asteroid apart, which then created glowing ring around a white dwarf star.

The white dwarf was identified as SDSS1228+1040, by researchers from the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group. The researchers compared this ring-like system to Saturn's rings, however the this white dwarf and its debris is much bigger than Saturn's.

"The diameter of the gap inside of the debris ring is 700,000 kilometres, approximately half the size of the Sun and the same space could fit both Saturn and its rings, which are only around 270,000 km across," Christopher Manser, lead author of the study, said in news release. "At the same time, the white dwarf is seven times smaller than Saturn but weighs 2500 times more".

The image of SDSS1228+1040 enabled the researchers to have detailed insight into the structure of such star systems.

"We knew about these debris disks around white dwarfs for over twenty years, but have only now been able to obtain the first image of one of these disks," Manser said.

The researchers used Doppler tomography to gather the image. This technique is quite similar to CT scans in hospitals.

"The image we get from the processed data shows us that these systems are truly disc-like, and reveal many structures that we cannot detect in a single snapshot. The image shows a spiral-like structure which we think is related to collisions between dust grains in the debris disc," Manser said.

The researchers claimed that systems like SDSS1228+1040 allow them to have peak of what the future solar system may look like, after the sun is out of fuel.

"Over the past decade, we have learned that remnants of planetary systems around white dwarfs are ubiquitous, and over thirty debris disks have been found by now," Professor Boris Gänsicke from the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group, said. "While most of them are in a stable state, just like Saturn's rings, a handful are seen to change, and it is those systems that can tell us something about how these rings are formed."

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