Subjects

Abstract

Most stars become white dwarfs after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel (the Sun will be one such). Between one-quarter and one-half of white dwarfs have elements heavier than helium in their atmospheres1,2, even though these elements ought to sink rapidly into the stellar interiors (unless they are occasionally replenished)3,4,5. The abundance ratios of heavy elements in the atmospheres of white dwarfs are similar to the ratios in rocky bodies in the Solar System6,7. This fact, together with the existence of warm, dusty debris disks8,9,10,11,12,13 surrounding about four per cent of white dwarfs14,15,16, suggests that rocky debris from the planetary systems of white-dwarf progenitors occasionally pollutes the atmospheres of the stars17. The total accreted mass of this debris is sometimes comparable to the mass of large asteroids in the Solar System1. However, rocky, disintegrating bodies around a white dwarf have not yet been observed. Here we report observations of a white dwarf—WD 1145+017—being transited by at least one, and probably several, disintegrating planetesimals, with periods ranging from 4.5 hours to 4.9 hours. The strongest transit signals occur every 4.5 hours and exhibit varying depths (blocking up to 40 per cent of the star’s brightness) and asymmetric profiles, indicative of a small object with a cometary tail of dusty effluent material. The star has a dusty debris disk, and the star’s spectrum shows prominent lines from heavy elements such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium, iron, and nickel. This system provides further evidence that the pollution of white dwarfs by heavy elements might originate from disrupted rocky bodies such as asteroids and minor planets.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    , , , & Ancient planetary systems are orbiting a large fraction of white dwarf stars. Astrophys. J. 722, 725–736 (2010)

  2. 2.

    , & The frequency of planetary debris around young white dwarfs. Astron. Astrophys. 566, A34 (2014)

  3. 3.

    , , & Diffusion in white dwarfs—new results and comparative study. Astrophys. J. 61 (Suppl.), 197–217 (1986)

  4. 4.

    , , & Cool metallic-line white dwarfs, radial velocities, and interstellar accretion. Astron. J. 105, 1033–1044 (1993)

  5. 5.

    Accretion and diffusion in white dwarfs. New diffusion timescales and applications to GD 362 and G 29–38. Astron. Astrophys. 498, 517–525 (2009)

  6. 6.

    , , , & The chemical composition of an extrasolar minor planet. Astrophys. J. 671, 872–877 (2007)

  7. 7.

    , & Evidence for water in the rocky debris of a disrupted extrasolar minor planet. Science 342, 218–220 (2013)

  8. 8.

    & Excess infrared radiation from a white dwarf—an orbiting brown dwarf? Nature 330, 138–140 (1987)

  9. 9.

    A tidally disrupted asteroid around the white dwarf G29–38. Astrophys. J. 584, L91–L94 (2003)

  10. 10.

    et al. A dusty disk around GD 362, a white dwarf with a uniquely high photospheric metal abundance. Astrophys. J. 632, L119–L122 (2005)

  11. 11.

    , , & Excess infrared radiation from the massive DAZ white dwarf GD 362: a debris disk? Astrophys. J. 632, L115–L118 (2005)

  12. 12.

    , , & Infrared emission from the dusty disk orbiting GD 362, an externally polluted white dwarf. Astron. J. 133, 1927–1933 (2007)

  13. 13.

    , , & Debris disks around white dwarfs: the DAZ connection. Astrophys. J. 646, 474–479 (2006)

  14. 14.

    , & Infrared signatures of disrupted minor planets at white dwarfs. Astrophys. J. 694, 805–819 (2009)

  15. 15.

    et al. The frequency of debris disks at white dwarfs. Astrophys. J. 760, 26 (2012)

  16. 16.

    , , & The frequency and infrared brightness of circumstellar discs at white dwarfs. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 449, 574–587 (2015)

  17. 17.

    & Are there unstable planetary systems around white dwarfs? Astrophys. J. 572, 556–565 (2002)

  18. 18.

    & A technique for extracting highly precise photometry for the two-wheeled Kepler mission. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 126, 948–958 (2014)

  19. 19.

    , & A box-fitting algorithm in the search for periodic transits. Astron. Astrophys. 391, 369–377 (2002)

  20. 20.

    et al. Possible disintegrating short-period super-Mercury orbiting KIC 12557548. Astrophys. J. 752, 1 (2012)

  21. 21.

    et al. KOI-2700b—a planet candidate with dusty effluents on a 22 hr orbit. Astrophys. J. 784, 40 (2014)

  22. 22.

    et al. The K2-ESPRINT project I: discovery of the disintegrating rocky planet with a cometary head and tail EPIC 201637175b. Preprint at (2015)

  23. 23.

    & Catastrophic evaporation of rocky planets. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 433, 2294–2309 (2013)

  24. 24.

    , , , & The Roche limit for close-orbiting planets: minimum density, composition constraints, and application to the 4.2 hr planet KOI 1843.03. Astrophys. J. 773, L15 (2013)

  25. 25.

    Tidal splitting and rotational breakup of solid spheres. Icarus 142, 525–535 (1999)

  26. 26.

    , & Spitzer IRAC observations of white dwarfs. I. Warm dust at metal-rich degenerates. Astrophys. J. 674, 431–446 (2008)

  27. 27.

    , , & Formation of planetary debris discs around white dwarfs—I. Tidal disruption of an extremely eccentric asteroid. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 445, 2244–2255 (2014)

  28. 28.

    , & Sublimation-induced orbital perturbations of extrasolar active asteroids and comets: application to white dwarf systems. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 452, 1945–1957 (2015)

  29. 29.

    & Finding rocky asteroids around white dwarfs by their periodic thermal emission. Astrophys. J. 793, L43 (2014)

  30. 30.

    et al. Multiwavelength observations of the candidate disintegrating sub-Mercury KIC 12557548b. Astrophys. J. 786, 100 (2014)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank B. Croll, D. Veras, M. Holman, R. Loomis, J. Becker, K. Deck, H. Schlichting, H. Lin, A. Loeb, and D. Osip for discussions and assistance. We thank C. Allinson, S. Dillet, D. Frostig, A. Johnson, D. Hellstrom, S. Johnson, B. Peak, and T. Reneau for conducting MINERVA observations. We thank M. Wyatt for suggesting how to present Supplementary Fig. 8. A.V. is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (grant DGE 1144152). J.A.J. is supported by grants from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds is supported by Pennsylvania State University, the Eberly College of Science, and the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium. The MEarth Team acknowledges funding from the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering (to D.C.), the National Science Foundation under grants AST-0807690, AST-1109468, and AST-1004488 (Alan T. Waterman Award), and a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. This research has made use of NASA’s Astrophysics Data System, the SIMBAD database and VizieR catalog access tool operated at the Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg, France. Some of the data presented here were obtained from the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). This paper includes data from the Kepler/K2 mission, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, the MMT Observatory, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III), the National Geographic Society—Palomar Observatory Sky Atlas (POSS-I) and the W.M. Keck Observatory. MINERVA is made possible by contributions from its collaborating institutions and Mt Cuba Astronomical Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Australian Research Council. We acknowledge the cultural significance of the summit of Maunakea within the indigenous Hawai’ian community. We are grateful for the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Andrew Vanderburg
    • , John Asher Johnson
    • , Allyson Bieryla
    • , Jonathan Irwin
    • , John Arban Lewis
    • , David Kipping
    • , Warren R. Brown
    • , Ruth Angus
    • , Laura Schaefer
    • , David W. Latham
    • , David Charbonneau
    •  & Jason Eastman
  2. Department of Physics, and Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Saul Rappaport
  3. Department of Astronomy, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • David Kipping
  4. Institut de Recherche sur les Exoplanètes, Départment de Physique, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec H3C 3J7, Canada

    • Patrick Dufour
  5. NASA Exoplanet Science Institute, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • David R. Ciardi
    •  & Charles Beichman
  6. Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3RH, UK

    • Ruth Angus
  7. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, USA

    • Nate McCrady
  8. School of Physics and Australian Centre for Astrobiology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia

    • Robert A. Wittenmyer
  9. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA

    • Jason T. Wright

Authors

  1. Search for Andrew Vanderburg in:

  2. Search for John Asher Johnson in:

  3. Search for Saul Rappaport in:

  4. Search for Allyson Bieryla in:

  5. Search for Jonathan Irwin in:

  6. Search for John Arban Lewis in:

  7. Search for David Kipping in:

  8. Search for Warren R. Brown in:

  9. Search for Patrick Dufour in:

  10. Search for David R. Ciardi in:

  11. Search for Ruth Angus in:

  12. Search for Laura Schaefer in:

  13. Search for David W. Latham in:

  14. Search for David Charbonneau in:

  15. Search for Charles Beichman in:

  16. Search for Jason Eastman in:

  17. Search for Nate McCrady in:

  18. Search for Robert A. Wittenmyer in:

  19. Search for Jason T. Wright in:

Contributions

A.V. processed and searched the K2 data, identified this system, analysed the K2 data for WD 1145+017 (with help from S.R., D.K., and J.T.W.), processed the MINERVA data, measured radial velocities (with help from W.R.B. and D.W.L.), and was the primary author of the manuscript. S.R. performed the dynamical calculations and dust simulations. W.R.B. obtained and reduced the MMT spectra. P.D. analysed the MMT spectra and SDSS photometry to measure spectroscopic properties. J.A.L. analysed archival photometric measurements and modelled the excess infrared emission. A.B. and D.W.L. obtained and processed the FLWO data. J.I. and D.C. obtained and processed the MEarth data. D.R.C. and C.B. obtained and processed the Keck data. R.A. calculated the systematics insensitive periodogram. L.S. calculated vapour pressures for some minerals with MAGMA. J.A.J., J.E., N.M., R.A.W., and J.T.W. made it possible to use MINERVA. J.A.J. provided scientific leadership.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew Vanderburg.

The raw K2 data are available at http://archive.stsci.edu/k2/data_search/search.php under the identification number 201563164. The processed K2 data are available at https://archive.stsci.edu/missions/hlsp/k2sff/html/c01/ep201563164.html. We have opted not to make the code used in this work available.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary References, Supplementary Tables 1-2 and Supplementary Figures 1-9.

Text files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data

    This file contains source data for Supplementary Figure 1. The ground based light curves we obtained. The columns alternate between timestamps and flux measurements, and the column headers describe the facility and wavelength of observations.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Data

    This file contains Source Data for Figure 2. The K2 light curve (flux measurements, timestamps, fit to low frequency variations (which we divide out to produce the light curve shown and analysed in the manuscript), and timestamps folded on the period and phase of the dominant 4.5 hour signal.

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Data

    This file contains Source Data for Supplementary Figure 3. The five individual spectra we obtained. The columns alternate between wavelength and flux. The column headers give the time of each observation.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature15527

Further reading

  • Nucleus-acoustic shock waves in white dwarfs

    • S Jannat
    •  & A A Mamun

    Pramana (2018)

  • Fully nonlinear heavy ion-acoustic solitary waves in astrophysical degenerate relativistic quantum plasmas

    • S. Sultana
    •  & R. Schlickeiser

    Astrophysics and Space Science (2018)

  • A chemical survey of exoplanets with ARIEL

    • Giovanna Tinetti
    • , Pierre Drossart
    • , Paul Eccleston
    • , Paul Hartogh
    • , Astrid Heske
    • , Jérémy Leconte
    • , Giusi Micela
    • , Marc Ollivier
    • , Göran Pilbratt
    • , Ludovic Puig
    • , Diego Turrini
    • , Bart Vandenbussche
    • , Paulina Wolkenberg
    • , Jean-Philippe Beaulieu
    • , Lars A. Buchave
    • , Martin Ferus
    • , Matt Griffin
    • , Manuel Guedel
    • , Kay Justtanont
    • , Pierre-Olivier Lagage
    • , Pedro Machado
    • , Giuseppe Malaguti
    • , Michiel Min
    • , Hans Ulrik Nørgaard-Nielsen
    • , Mirek Rataj
    • , Tom Ray
    • , Ignasi Ribas
    • , Mark Swain
    • , Robert Szabo
    • , Stephanie Werner
    • , Joanna Barstow
    • , Matt Burleigh
    • , James Cho
    • , Vincent Coudé du Foresto
    • , Athena Coustenis
    • , Leen Decin
    • , Therese Encrenaz
    • , Marina Galand
    • , Michael Gillon
    • , Ravit Helled
    • , Juan Carlos Morales
    • , Antonio García Muñoz
    • , Andrea Moneti
    • , Isabella Pagano
    • , Enzo Pascale
    • , Giuseppe Piccioni
    • , David Pinfield
    • , Subhajit Sarkar
    • , Franck Selsis
    • , Jonathan Tennyson
    • , Amaury Triaud
    • , Olivia Venot
    • , Ingo Waldmann
    • , David Waltham
    • , Gillian Wright
    • , Jerome Amiaux
    • , Jean-Louis Auguères
    • , Michel Berthé
    • , Naidu Bezawada
    • , Georgia Bishop
    • , Neil Bowles
    • , Deirdre Coffey
    • , Josep Colomé
    • , Martin Crook
    • , Pierre-Elie Crouzet
    • , Vania Da Peppo
    • , Isabel Escudero Sanz
    • , Mauro Focardi
    • , Martin Frericks
    • , Tom Hunt
    • , Ralf Kohley
    • , Kevin Middleton
    • , Gianluca Morgante
    • , Roland Ottensamer
    • , Emanuele Pace
    • , Chris Pearson
    • , Richard Stamper
    • , Kate Symonds
    • , Miriam Rengel
    • , Etienne Renotte
    • , Peter Ade
    • , Laura Affer
    • , Christophe Alard
    • , Nicole Allard
    • , Francesca Altieri
    • , Yves André
    • , Claudio Arena
    • , Ioannis Argyriou
    • , Alan Aylward
    • , Cristian Baccani
    • , Gaspar Bakos
    • , Marek Banaszkiewicz
    • , Mike Barlow
    • , Virginie Batista
    • , Giancarlo Bellucci
    • , Serena Benatti
    • , Pernelle Bernardi
    • , Bruno Bézard
    • , Maria Blecka
    • , Emeline Bolmont
    • , Bertrand Bonfond
    • , Rosaria Bonito
    • , Aldo S. Bonomo
    • , John Robert Brucato
    • , Allan Sacha Brun
    • , Ian Bryson
    • , Waldemar Bujwan
    • , Sarah Casewell
    • , Bejamin Charnay
    • , Cesare Cecchi Pestellini
    • , Guo Chen
    • , Angela Ciaravella
    • , Riccardo Claudi
    • , Rodolphe Clédassou
    • , Mario Damasso
    • , Mario Damiano
    • , Camilla Danielski
    • , Pieter Deroo
    • , Anna Maria Di Giorgio
    • , Carsten Dominik
    • , Vanessa Doublier
    • , Simon Doyle
    • , René Doyon
    • , Benjamin Drummond
    • , Bastien Duong
    • , Stephen Eales
    • , Billy Edwards
    • , Maria Farina
    • , Ettore Flaccomio
    • , Leigh Fletcher
    • , François Forget
    • , Steve Fossey
    • , Markus Fränz
    • , Yuka Fujii
    • , Álvaro García-Piquer
    • , Walter Gear
    • , Hervé Geoffray
    • , Jean Claude Gérard
    • , Lluis Gesa
    • , H. Gomez
    • , Rafał Graczyk
    • , Caitlin Griffith
    • , Denis Grodent
    • , Mario Giuseppe Guarcello
    • , Jacques Gustin
    • , Keiko Hamano
    • , Peter Hargrave
    • , Yann Hello
    • , Kevin Heng
    • , Enrique Herrero
    • , Allan Hornstrup
    • , Benoit Hubert
    • , Shigeru Ida
    • , Masahiro Ikoma
    • , Nicolas Iro
    • , Patrick Irwin
    • , Christopher Jarchow
    • , Jean Jaubert
    • , Hugh Jones
    • , Queyrel Julien
    • , Shingo Kameda
    • , Franz Kerschbaum
    • , Pierre Kervella
    • , Tommi Koskinen
    • , Matthijs Krijger
    • , Norbert Krupp
    • , Marina Lafarga
    • , Federico Landini
    • , Emanuel Lellouch
    • , Giuseppe Leto
    • , A. Luntzer
    • , Theresa Rank-Lüftinger
    • , Antonio Maggio
    • , Jesus Maldonado
    • , Jean-Pierre Maillard
    • , Urs Mall
    • , Jean-Baptiste Marquette
    • , Stephane Mathis
    • , Pierre Maxted
    • , Taro Matsuo
    • , Alexander Medvedev
    • , Yamila Miguel
    • , Vincent Minier
    • , Giuseppe Morello
    • , Alessandro Mura
    • , Norio Narita
    • , Valerio Nascimbeni
    • , N. Nguyen Tong
    • , Vladimiro Noce
    • , Fabrizio Oliva
    • , Enric Palle
    • , Paul Palmer
    • , Maurizio Pancrazzi
    • , Andreas Papageorgiou
    • , Vivien Parmentier
    • , Manuel Perger
    • , Antonino Petralia
    • , Stefano Pezzuto
    • , Ray Pierrehumbert
    • , Ignazio Pillitteri
    • , Giampaolo Piotto
    • , Giampaolo Pisano
    • , Loredana Prisinzano
    • , Aikaterini Radioti
    • , Jean-Michel Réess
    • , Ladislav Rezac
    • , Marco Rocchetto
    • , Albert Rosich
    • , Nicoletta Sanna
    • , Alexandre Santerne
    • , Giorgio Savini
    • , Gaetano Scandariato
    • , Bruno Sicardy
    • , Carles Sierra
    • , Giuseppe Sindoni
    • , Konrad Skup
    • , Ignas Snellen
    • , Mateusz Sobiecki
    • , Lauriane Soret
    • , Alessandro Sozzetti
    • , A. Stiepen
    • , Antoine Strugarek
    • , Jake Taylor
    • , William Taylor
    • , Luca Terenzi
    • , Marcell Tessenyi
    • , Angelos Tsiaras
    • , C. Tucker
    • , Diana Valencia
    • , Gautam Vasisht
    • , Allona Vazan
    • , Francesc Vilardell
    • , Sabrine Vinatier
    • , Serena Viti
    • , Rens Waters
    • , Piotr Wawer
    • , Anna Wawrzaszek
    • , Anthony Whitworth
    • , Yuk L. Yung
    • , Sergey N. Yurchenko
    • , María Rosa Zapatero Osorio
    • , Robert Zellem
    • , Tiziano Zingales
    •  & Frans Zwart

    Experimental Astronomy (2018)

  • A circumbinary debris disk in a polluted white dwarf system

    • J. Farihi
    • , S. G. Parsons
    •  & B. T. Gänsicke

    Nature Astronomy (2017)

  • A glimpse of Earth's fate

    • Francesca Faedi

    Nature (2015)

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.