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This is how the world will end — according to NASA

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Earth’s final days are in the distant future, but the the death of a far-off solar system revealed in images from Kepler 2 shows how the world might end

The destruction of a solar system has been captured for the first time by astronomers who said the violent events provide a grim glimpse of Earth’s ultimate fate.

Images taken by Nasa’s Kepler 2 space mission reveal the rocky remains of a world that is being torn apart as it spirals around a dead star, or white dwarf, in the constellation of Virgo, 570 light years from Earth.

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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.”

Sun-like stars are driven by nuclear reactions that transform hydrogen into helium. But when the hydrogen runs out, they burn heavier elements, such as helium, carbon and oxygen, and expand dramatically. Eventually, the star sheds its outer layers to leave an Earth-sized core known as a white dwarf.

Related: Science vine: the life of a star

Vanderburg’s team spotted the cosmic catastrophe with the Kepler 2 mission, which can detect the existence of new planets by the telltale dimming they cause when they pass in front of their parent stars.

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Instead of looking at sun-like stars, the scientists studied a white dwarf known in astronomical circles as WD1145+017. They found that every 4.5 hours, Kepler 2 detected a 40% drop in light from the star, as a chunk of material moved across its face.

Initial observations from Kepler were backed up with further measurements from other telescopes, including the Whipple Observatory in Massachusetts, the MEarth-South telescope in Chile and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Together, they found evidence for several lumps of rock in orbit around the dead star.

Writing in the journal, Nature , Vanderburg describes the results as the first evidence for rocky, disintegrating bodies around a white dwarf. The discovery explains a long-standing, if obscure, mystery in astronomy: the source of the heavy metal pollution seen in some white dwarf stars.

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“We now have a smoking gun linking white dwarf pollution to the destruction of rocky planets,” Vanderburg said.

Astronomers are not clear where the rocky objects came from in the first place, but one possibility is that the star’s death destabilised the orbit of a neighbouring massive planet in such a way that smaller rocky worlds were kicked towards the star. They get so close that the searing heat starts to vaporise them as the gravitational forces tear them apart.

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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.

Francesca Faedi , an astronomer at the University of Warwick, said the death of the star Vanderburg’s team observed may have sent planets in the distant solar system crashing into one another, reducing them to rocks that resemble asteroids.

“It is extremely exciting that astronomers have recorded the final throes of a planetary system,” she writes in an accompanying article in Nature. “Although Earth’s final days are a long way into the future, this research has allowed us a glimpse of the probably inescapable outcome.”

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guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

 


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Florida reports record number of coronavirus deaths one month ahead of GOP convention

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Florida, the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, reported a record 156 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday and nearly 14,000 new infections.

The total number of virus cases in the "Sunshine State" has now surpassed 315,000 and there have been 4,782 deaths, according to Florida Department of Health figures.

The reporting of 156 virus deaths in the state in a 24-hour period surpasses the previous high of 132 deaths announced just two days earlier.

Florida is now reporting more COVID-19 cases daily than any other state in the country. California and Texas are next with about 10,000 new cases a day.

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GOP officials admit 2020 platform is basically whatever’s on Trump’s Twitter account

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President Donald Trump has shaped the Republican Party into his own image in less than four years on the job, and that doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon.

Nearly half of the House Republicans on the job when Trump took office in 2017 have either retired, resigned, been defeated or are retiring in 2020, and many of the GOP newcomers are devoted Trump loyalists, reported Politico.

“Whether the president wins or loses, his policy views and style have firmly taken over the Republican Party — nationalism and white grievance, those kinds of things,” said Matt Moore, former chairman of South Carolina's GOP. “I don’t think that Trumpy politics will be leaving the stage anytime soon.”

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Coronavirus data disappears from CDC dashboard after Trump hijacks info

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The Trump administration on Tuesday forced all hospitals and states to make a significant and immediate change in how they report coronavirus patient data, hijacking the information to be funneled into the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Experts warned the move could allow the administration to politicize the data, hide it, be less transparent, all of which interferes in the real-time usage of information to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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