The astonishing case of “space cannibalism” captured by Hubble will go down in history

Thanks to the data collected by Hubble, we were able to record a very remarkable phenomenon whose hero is the white dwarf G238-44. This dead star sucks and “devours” rocky and icy material from its system, suggesting that water and other volatile matter may be common in the outer extensions of planetary systems.

“We’ve never seen both types of objects accumulating on a white dwarf at the same time,” Ted Johnson of the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a statement. “By studying these white dwarfs, we hope to gain a better understanding of the still intact planetary systems.”

NASA, European Space Agency, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

The finding that the stellar body simultaneously captures material from its nearest asteroid belt and from Kuiper belt-like regions, including icy bodies, is important because it suggests that “water reservoir” could be a common feature in the outer regions of planetary systems.

“Life as we know it requires a rocky planet covered with a variety of elements, such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen,” said Benjamin Zuckerman, a professor in the University of California’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and co-author of the research. “The abundance of elements we see on this white dwarf appears to require a primate body that is rocky and rich in birds – the first example we’ve found in studies of hundreds of white dwarfs.”

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