White dwarf stars are essentially the cores of dying stars. A star casts most of its gases into space, leaving behind the core, and the elements inside settle by weight, heavier ones to the center, lighter ones like helium and hydrogen to the top, like a celestial jawbreaker. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to happen. Scientists have found a white dwarf, SDSS J124043.01+671034.68, with an atmosphere made entirely of oxygen.
This is unprecedented, to put it mildly. Hidden in the constellation Draco, the white dwarf seems to have no hydrogen or helium at all, which lets astronomers look more closely at the core of a white dwarf. But how did this lose all its gases? There are two competing theories; one is that a nearby star siphoned them off, and the other is that “thermonuclear excavation” occurred. This is the bland, scientific way of saying this star blew itself up with a nuclear explosion. Nobody really knows for sure, and astronomers disagree over how precisely this would have led to the star losing so much mass. But it is universally agreed setting off a nuclear explosion in space is totally metal.
Astronomers will keep looking closely at this star, as it’s a rare opportunity to see how these things degrade. But until then, we can talk about names. We vote Nuclear Dracula.
(via Science News)