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Never-before-seen rocks found in these exoplanet graveyards

An illustration of rocky debris around a white dwarf. (Image credit: NOIRLab)

Astronomers have discovered never-seen-before rock types, made up of unusual ratios of minerals, within the remains of alien worlds ripped apart by their dying host stars. The research suggests that such exoplanets are built from a much wider array of materials than previously thought. 

In the new study, researchers looked at 23 white dwarfs — the small, dense remains of dead low- and medium-mass stars — within 650 light-years of the sun. As these stars were dying and transitioning into white dwarfs, they ripped apart their orbiting exoplanets. And so, the atmospheres of these white dwarfs contain the guts from the alien worlds they destroyed. Researchers worked out the ratio of different elements in the white dwarf atmospheres by analyzing the light given off by the stars; then, they calculated the most likely makeup of the minerals that would have formed the obliterated alien worlds.

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