Wednesday, October 21, 2015
A Ceres-like asteroid is slowly disintegrating as it orbits a white dwarf star. Astronomers have spotted telltales signs of such an object using data from the Kepler K2 mission. It is the first planetary object detected transiting a white dwarf. Within about a million years the object will be destroyed, leaving a thin dusting of metals on the surface of the white dwarf.
During observations of the white dwarf WD 1145+017, astronomers noticed the presence of several planetary pieces in orbit. The total mass of debris is thought to be around the size of the asteroid Ceres in our solar system's main asteroid belt.
These small planetary husks, all having orbits of between 4.5 to 4.9 hours, are too small to be seen by themselves; but their presence became known when the researchers detected huge dust clouds trailing them in their orbits. Follow-up observations by ground-based observatories were used to decipher what elements are inside the debris.
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