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Farihi and his colleagues looked at the positions of these white dwarfs within the Milky Way and estimated whether the impurities they saw in the stars' atmospheres could be explained by sweeping up the interstellar medium.
"And the answer is a resounding 'No, it doesn't make sense,'" Farihi said
They found that the types of metals seen in the stellar atmospheres, such as silicon, magnesium and iron, suggest a rocky origin. The exact source of the rocky debris isn't known, but Farihi says there are two possibilities: the debris could come from an asteroid belt similar to our own, which essential represents a planet that didn't form, or the pieces of a shattered planet.
at least 3 percent and possibly as much as 20 percent of all white dwarfs are contaminated by rocky material
Interestingly, there are also indications that some of the rocky material polluting the white dwarfs contained water
Combining the results of a search for extrasolar planets in our galaxy and a method for calculating the likelihood that extrasolar planets exist, only about 15 percent of the stars in the Milky Way likely host systems of planets like our own, one astronomer said here today at the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society