(Artist's Interpretation by NASA/Mark A. Garlick)
NASA's Kepler 2 telescope orbits the sun. It has the largest telescopic mirror outside of Earth orbit, which permits it to acquire detailed images of solar systems far, far away. Recently, astronomers used it to observe an asteroid 570 light years away. That asteroid is being torn apart by the dying star that it orbits. This is the first time that astronomers have ever observed the destruction of a solar system. The Guardian reports:
Scientists spotted chunks of shredded planet swinging around the white dwarf every 4.5 to five hours, placing them in an orbit about 520,000 miles from the star, about twice the distance between the Earth and the moon.
“This is something no human has seen before,” said Andrew Vanderburg at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “We’re watching a solar system get destroyed.”
This event could reveal what the ultimate end of our solar system would be like:
A similar fate may well await our own solar system. When the sun dies in five billion years, it will expand and engulf the inner planets, toasting Mercury and Venus, and potentially Earth too. But if Earth survives that cosmic trauma, it may find itself being shredded as it spirals into the white dwarf that the sun becomes. “We might be seeing how our own solar system could be disassembled in the future,” said Vanderburg.