ANALYSIS: White Dwarfs Are Eating ‘Earth-like' Planets for Dinner
These elements are evidence that there is a lot of debris in this planetary system that is continuously falling into the star, creating what is known as a "polluted white dwarf." They have only been known for about the last 12 years. It was an initial surprise to astronomers because white dwarfs, being so old, were not expected to have any leftover planetary material (which is common in young star systems.)
Here's where the mystery deepens: Planets have not actually been found around van Maanen's star (or stars like it), but lead author Jay Farihi of University College London said in a statement that it will likely happen before long.
ANALYSIS: Do Comets Rain Down on White Dwarf Stars?
"The mechanism that creates the rings of planetary debris, and the deposition onto the stellar atmosphere, requires the gravitational influence of full-fledged planets," he said. "The process couldn't occur unless there were planets there."
"Carnegie has one of the world's largest collections of astronomical plates with an archive that includes about 250,000 plates from three different observatories - Mount Wilson, Palomar, and Las Campanas," added Mulchaey. "We have a ton of history sitting in our basement and who knows what other finds we might unearth in the future?"
The paper was recently published in New Astronomy Reviews.
Source: Carnegie Science