The white dwarf known as SDSS1228+1040 was presumed dead. That was until the Very Large Telescope in Southern Europe, Chile, situated on the top of the Cerro Paranal Mountain (8645 ft. above sea level) noticed how the dead star obliterated a stray asteroid, creating a ring around itself, similar to Saturn’s ring.
Even though the ring that the dead star created looks like a ring that might be found around a planet, the process used is different . The asteroid entered its gravitational pull while traveling through space, shortly followed by its destruction caused by the tidal forces generated by the white dwarf. In Saturn’s case, the rings were either formed by one of the planets moons being struck by a large asteroid, forming the ring of debris around the planet, or it might just be residual nebular debris, left over from the creation of the planet itself.
The white dwarf can be considered the corpse of a dead star, the core of the original star, left by it on its death bed. The star expands becoming a Red Giant, consuming more and more fuel until it has nothing left to burn, leaving behind its white shiny core. White dwarfs are a rare sight, considering that more than 97% of stars become neutron stars when they eventually die.
The ring phenomenon caused by the asteroid entering the white dwarfs orbit is extremely rare in our observable Universe, only 7 other instances of this circumstance were noticed by using our means of peering into space. The process used to analyze this ring is similar to a CT scan used in our very own hospitals, viewing a certain part from different angles in order to create a complete picture. This processed is called Doppler Tomography and it started in 2003, only now it being able to show a complete image, due to the slow rotation of the disc itself.
Even though from a picture it looks roughly the same size as Saturn, the ring surrounding the star is 435,000 mile wide, while Saturn’s rings are only about 160,000. The white dwarf might be seven times smaller than the planet residing in our solar system, but it weighs a lot more, roughly 2,500 more than Saturn.
The ominous red glow that the asteroid-created ring possesses is due to the fact that the white dwarf emits ultraviolet rays that get refracted through the ring, thus giving it a reddish hue. This is the first time a ring like this is captured on camera in 20 years since the study of such phenomena started.
We can only see the remnants of the process in which the dead star obliterated and asteroid to create its reddish ring, but even so, it is a sight for sore eyes.