(Written by Christine Pulliam, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, for Science at the Smithsonian, a website featuring highlights of scientific research at the Smithsonian Institution.)
In the movie "Star Wars," the Death Star uses a futuristic weapon to blast apart the planet Alderaan. It seems the stuff of science fiction, but astronomers have found a real-life “Death Star” that shredded a rocky planet and is swallowing the dusty remains.
The star in question is known as a white dwarf. When a sun-like star reaches the end of its life, it swells to form a red giant. Its outer layers then puff off, leaving behind a hot core of carbon and oxygen. This white dwarf is very dense, cramming half a sun’s worth of material into a sphere the size of Earth. A teaspoon of white dwarf would weigh more than a ton.