A white dwarf rips apart an asteroid creating a Saturn-like disk was imaged by researchers with the Astrophysics Group of the University of Warwick, UK is the first of its kind.
With only seven such instances on record, the image created by the team led by Christopher Manser is unique. Observing the white dwarf known as SDSS1228+1040, the research team has put together an incredible image detailing rings similar to those of Saturn and resulted from the destruction of the asteroid by the white dwarf. The rings are formed by debris and are very similar to those forming Saturn’s disk.
The process isn’t new to the astrophysicists’ community. Long aware that such rings form as the strong tidal forces force objects to be drawn to white dwarfs, Manser’s team set to image the process in an unique manners. The insight thus gained is unprecedented.
The study featuring in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society describes the methods used for imaging the SDSS1228+1040 white dwarf. A combination of Doppler Tomography, observation of the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph, as well as those retrieved from the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory were largely helpful in composing the image of the white dwarf surrounded by the asteroid debris disk.
The data was obtained from observations spanning 12 years, in the period between 2003 to 2015. During this time, the disk was slowly rotating. A white dwarf rips apart an asteroid creating a Saturn-like disk is an unique instance that provides valuable insight into the future of our own solar system once the Sun runs out of fuel.
How did this happen? According to the scientists, one instance may have brought an asteroid steering dangerously close to SDSS1228+1040. The powerful tidal forces enhanced by the proximity to the white dwarf would have pulled it apart, creating a large amount of debris which is now orbiting around the star.
The gas resulted from the collision of debris matter is illuminated by the ultraviolet light emitted from the white dwarf. As such, the dark red hue observed in the image is a result of the process. The similarity between the disk created around the white dwarf and the Saturn’s disk is indeed striking. However, according to the researchers, Saturn is seven times larger than the star. Still the white dwarf weighs 2,500 times more than the planet.
At the same time, the gap between SDSS1228+1040 and its debris disk is calculated to be 700,000 km. Such a distance could easily accommodate Saturn and its rings.
Photo Credits: jumk.de