I continue to be fascinated by small stars. My earliest passion for such involved red dwarfs, which appeared to make habitable planet possibilities that would be of great interest to science fiction authors, assuming such environments could survive tidal lock and stellar flaring. But white dwarfs have a weird seductiveness of their own, because we’re learning how to extract from them information about planets that orbited them before being consumed.
Thus a new paper out of UCLA, which focuses on an unusual way of determining the geochemistry of rocks from beyond our Solar System. We can do this because white dwarfs, the remnants of normal stars that have gone through their red giant phase and collapsed into objects about the size of the Earth, have strong gravitational pull. That means we would expect heavy elements like carbon, oxygen and nitrogen to vanish into their interiors, utterly out of view to our instruments. We should see little more than hydrogen and helium, making what actually does show up in their atmospheres intriguing.
Image: An artist’s concept showing debris falling into a white dwarf star. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
According to the UCLA researchers, spectroscopic studies reveal that the atmospheres of up to half ...