artist's concept of a misshapen chunk of rock orbiting a star and its disk of dust

This is an artist’s impression of a white dwarf (burned-out) star accreting rocky debris left behind by the star’s surviving planetary system. It was observed by Hubble in the Hyades star cluster. At lower right, an asteroid can be seen falling toward a Saturn-like disk of dust that is encircling the dead star. Infalling asteroids pollute the white dwarf’s atmosphere with silicon. Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

› Larger image

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found the building blocks for Earth-sized planets in an unlikely place– the atmospheres of a pair of burned-out stars called white dwarfs.

These dead stars are located 150 light-years from Earth in a relatively young star cluster, Hyades, in the constellation Taurus. The star cluster is only 625 million years old. The white dwarfs are being polluted by asteroid-like debris falling onto them. Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph observed silicon and only low levels of carbon in the white dwarfs’ atmospheres. Silicon is a major ingredient of the rocky material that constitutes Earth and other solid planets in our solar system. Carbon, which helps determine properties and origin of planetary debris, generally is depleted or absent in rocky, Earth-like material.

“We have identified chemical evidence for the building blocks of rocky planets,” said Jay Farihi of the University of Cambridge in England. He is lead author of a new study appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “When these stars were born, they built planets, and there’s a good chance they currently retain some of them. The material we are seeing is evidence of this. The debris is at least as rocky as the most primitive terrestrial bodies in our solar system.”

via NASA – NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Finds Dead Stars ‘Polluted with Planet Debris.