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A white dwarf is cooking a giant planet and slowly eating it

5 Dec 2019, 14:00 UTC
A white dwarf is cooking a giant planet and slowly eating it
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Over 1,500 light years from Earth, a dead star is eating one of its giant planets.

The stellar corpse is a bit of a gourmet, too: It's cooking the Neptune-like planet first, and being picky about what it eats, throwing away most of its planetary meal and even then pickily eating only certain ingredients.

The star is called WD J091405.30+191412.25 — it's a white dwarf, and the alphanumeric salad after that is its coordinates on the sky — so let's call it J0914 for short. A white dwarf is the core of a star like the Sun after it dies, a complicated process where it expands into a swollen red giant, blows off its outer layers, and finally reveals its extremely dense and hot core to space. The Sun will go through this process in about 7 billion years, but judging from the light it gives off, J0914 just finished up ejecting its outer layers about 13 million years ago.

It started off life as a star pretty much like the Sun, but that was many billions of years ago. Now, as a white dwarf, it's extremely hot (27,500°C / 50,000° F) and phenomenally dense, with a surface gravity 70,000 ...

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