Led by Dr Boris Gaensicke, a team of Warwick physicists have found evidence of the remains of a planetary system around a star that was once eight times the size of our Sun.
They have observed a glowing ring of metallic vapour around a White Dwarf (the dense, inactive core of a star like our Sun that has exhausted its nuclear fuel). The researchers detected iron, magnesium and calcium in the vicinity of the star, indicating that they were dealing with a disc of metal-gas orbiting close to the star. In fact, they believe that the ring resulted from an asteroid being flung towards the White Dwarf and ripped apart by the star’s gravity. Their theory is that the asteroid was pushed there by one or two planets that survived in the outer regions of the star’s solar system after the White Dwarf’s ‘red giant’ phase when it consumed all its inner planets and pushed the remainder further out.
This important research gives us an indication of how our own solar system might evolve, when, in five to six billion years’ time, our Sun will become a White Dwarf with none of its inner planets left. Professor Tom Marsh, one of the Warwick team, commented: ‘It’s giving us a glimpse of our future.’