You remember the fearsome Death Star from “Star Wars”, right? In the fiction series, she is a powerful warlike space station in the service of the Galactic Empire, with 140 kilometers in diameter, capable of transporting thousands of stormtroopers and a super laser that comes out of a crater that exists on one of its faces and is capable of obliterate entire planets! A group of astronomers has found a real parallel to this destructive monster.
According to Charles Q. Choi, from the Space portal, the discovery was made last year, when scientists observed — from the Very Large Telescope in Chile — an asteroid being pulverized by a white dwarf, a star that has already burned up all over the world. It’s hydrogen and is in the final phase of its existence. However, after taking a closer look at what was happening, astronomers believe the star may have annihilated 15 planets.
According to Charles, the white dwarf is known by the name of WD 1145+017 and “resides” in the constellation Virgo, about 570 light-years from Earth. As he said, astronomers monitoring the star explained that this solar system is composed of planets with dimensions that vary between two and four times the size of its sun, but scientists do not believe that the planets are large rocky bodies.
Instead, the researchers suggest that the bodies orbiting the white dwarf are huge clouds of gas and cosmic dust that come from much smaller celestial rocks that are disintegrating.
As they said, the destruction process has evolved rapidly since activity in the surroundings of the white dwarf was detected. At the time, astronomers observed that 1% of the star’s light was blocked by material orbiting the system, but that percentage has jumped to somewhere around 10-11% in the last seven months.
This isn’t the first time astronomers have observed a “death star” — or rather, a dead star — destroy a solar system. According to Mark Prigg, from the Daily Mail, researchers have discovered the presence of rocky material, as well as a cloud of dust, orbiting around a white dwarf just over 835,000 kilometers from the star.
Scientists believe the scenario shows the destruction of a planetary body by the white dwarf — and that this rocky object will take 1 million years to completely disintegrate. Another example was observed by a group of astrophysicists at the University of Warwick in England, who analyzed traces of a solar system that formed a gigantic ring around the star SDSS1228+1040. See in the image below:
Future of the Solar System
Are you wondering what all this has to do with us? According to astronomers, evolutionarily speaking, our Sun will turn into a white dwarf one day, which means that the planets of the Solar System will suffer the same fate as the planetary bodies orbiting the death stars we talked about.
So when the Sun burns out all of its fuel, it will first expand and turn into a red giant. Afterward, its outermost layers will be emitted by space, and all that will be left of it will be a core with its former mass, but concentrated in a radius similar to that of the Earth – that is, the Sun will have converted into a white dwarf, a star in the process of dying which consists of an extremely dense core.
On the other hand, if the mass of our Sun were dozens of times greater than the original one, its death would occur in the form of a spectacular and violent supernova. The event would certainly be more dramatic and grandiose, but for us earthlings, it would not make any difference, for, in the case of both the superburst and the conversion of the Sun into a death star, we would have been scorched to death long before either of them happened.