The Chemical Composition of an Extrasolar Kuiper-Belt-Object
Publication date: 09 February 2017
Authors: Xu, S., et al.
Journal: The Astrophysical Journal Letters
Copyright: © 2017. The American Astronomical Society
The Kuiper Belt of our solar system is a source of short-period comets that may have delivered water and other volatiles to Earth and the other terrestrial planets. However, the distribution of water and other volatiles in extrasolar planetary systems is largely unknown. We report the discovery of an accretion of a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog onto the atmosphere of the white dwarf WD 1425+540. The heavy elements C, N, O, Mg, Si, S, Ca, Fe, and Ni are detected, with nitrogen observed for the first time in extrasolar planetary debris. The nitrogen mass fraction is ~2%, comparable to that in comet Halley and higher than in any other known solar system object. The lower limit to the accreted mass is ~1022 g, which is about one hundred thousand times the typical mass of a short-period comet. In addition, WD 1425+540 has a wide binary companion, which could facilitate perturbing a Kuiper-Belt-Object analog into the white dwarf's tidal radius. This finding shows that analogs to objects in our Kuiper Belt exist around other stars and could be responsible for the delivery of volatiles to terrestrial planets beyond the solar system.Link to publication