Astronomers have finally seen the remnants of a dead planet as it tumbled onto the surface of a dead star – and in doing so, they confirmed decades of speculation about what happens to solar systems that reach the end of their lives.
These explosive observations — which were taken with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory — provide a preview of the violent future that may await Earth and its sun billions of years from now, the authors wrote in a study published Feb. 9 in the journal Nature.
“This detection provides the first direct evidence that white dwarfs are currently accreting the remnants of old planetary systems,” lead study author Tim Cunningham, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Warwick in the UK, said in a statement. “Probing accretion in this way… [offers] a glimpse into the likely fate of the thousands of known exoplanetary systems, including our own Solar system.”
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