AAVSO: American Association of Variable Star Observers

WD1145+017 (Abstract)

Volume 45 number 2 (2017)

Mario Motta
AAVSO, 19 Skipper Way, Gloucester, MA 01930; mmotta@massmed.org

Abstract

(Abstract only) WD1145 is a 17th magnitude white dwarf star 570 light years away in Virgo that was discovered to have a disintegrating planetoid in close orbit by Andrew Vanderburg, a graduate student at Harvard CfA, while data mining the elucidate the nature of its rather bizarre transit light curves. I obtained multiple observations of WD1145 over the course of a year, and found a series of complex transit light curves that could only be interpreted as a ring complex or torus in close orbit around WD1145. Combined with data from other amateur astronomers, professional observations, and satellite data, it became clear that WD1145 has a small planetoid in close orbit at the Roche limit and is breaking apart, forming a ring of debris material that is then raining down on the white dwarf. The surface of the star is “polluted” by heavy metals, determined by spectroscopic data. Given that in the intense gravitational field of a white dwarf any heavy metals could not for long last on the surface, this confirms that we are tracking in real time the destruction of a small planet by its host star.