Something stripped dead star of its hydrogen and helium, providing rare peek into its core
NASA, ESA, H. Bond/STScI, M. Barstow/University of Leicester
White dwarfs — the exposed cores of dead stars — are the last place astronomers expected to find an oxygen atmosphere. Yet that’s exactly what recently turned up, providing researchers a rare peek inside the core of a massive star and raising questions about how such an oddball could have formed.
Most stars die by gently casting the bulk of their gas into space, leaving behind a dense, hot core. Heavy elements such as carbon and oxygen sink to the core’s center while hydrogen and helium float to the surface. But a newly discovered white dwarf, about 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Draco, has no hydrogen or helium at its surface. Its atmosphere is instead dominated by oxygen, researchers report in the April 1 Science.