A crystal ball in the future of our solar system

Artist’s impression of a new Jupiter-like exoplanet orbiting a white dwarf or dead star. This system is proof that planets can survive the explosive red giant phase of their host star and is the very first confirmed planetary system that serves as an analogue to the fate of the Sun and Jupiter in our own solar system. Credit: WM Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko

Astronomers have discovered the very first confirmed planetary system that resembles the expected fate of our solar system, when the Sun reaches the end of its life in about five billion years.

Researchers detected the system using the WM Keck Observatory on Maunakea in Hawai’i; it is a Jupiter-like planet with a Jupiter-like orbit revolving around a white dwarf star located near the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

“This evidence confirms that planets orbiting at a sufficiently large distance can continue to exist after the death of their star,” says Joshua Blackman, postdoctoral researcher in astronomy at the University of Tasmania in Australia and lead author of the study. . “Since this system is an analogue of our own solar system, this suggests that Jupiter and Saturn could survive the red giant phase of the Sun, when it runs out of nuclear fuel and self-destructs.”

The study is published in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

“The future of Earth may not be so rosy because it is much closer to the Sun,” said co-author David Bennett, senior researcher at the University of Maryland and the Goddard Space Flight Center in The NASA. “If humanity wanted to move to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Sun sintered the Earth during its red supergiant phase, we would still orbit the Sun, although we could not rely on the heat. of the Sun like a white dwarf for a very long time. “







Artist’s rendering of a main sequence star transforming into a red giant as it burns the last of its hydrogen fuel, then collapses into a white dwarf. What remains is a hot, dense core about the size of the Earth and about half the mass of the Sun. A gas giant similar to Jupiter orbits at a distance, surviving the explosive transformation. Credit: WM Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko

A white dwarf is what main sequence stars like our Sun become when they die. In the later stages of the stellar life cycle, a star burns all the hydrogen in its nucleus and turns into a red giant star. It then collapses on itself, shrinking into a white dwarf, where all that’s left is a hot, dense core, usually the size of the Earth and half the size of the Sun. Because these compact stellar corpses are small and no longer have the nuclear fuel to radiate brilliantly, white dwarfs are very faint and difficult to detect.

High-resolution near-infrared images obtained with the Keck Observatory’s adaptive laser guiding star optics system in combination with its near-infrared camera (NIRC2) reveal that the newly discovered white dwarf accounts for about 60% of the body’s mass. Sun and that its surviving exoplanet is a giant gas. world which is about 40 percent more massive than Jupiter.

A crystal ball in the future of our solar system

Artist’s rendering of a dying sequence star with an orbiting planet. The star is in the red giant phase when it burns the last of its nuclear fuel before collapsing on itself and forming a smaller, paler white dwarf. Credit: WM Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko

The team discovered the planet using a technique called a gravitational microlens, which occurs when a star close to Earth momentarily aligns with a star further away. This creates a phenomenon where the gravity of the foreground star acts like a lens and amplifies the light from the background star. If there is a planet orbiting the nearest star, it temporarily distorts the magnified light as the planet speeds past.

Strangely, when the team tried to search for the planet’s host star, they unexpectedly discovered that the starlight was not bright enough to be an ordinary main sequence star. The data also ruled out the possibility of a brown dwarf star as a host.

“We were also able to rule out the possibility of a neutron star or a black hole host. This means that the planet is orbiting a dead star, a white dwarf,” explains the co -author Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, professor, Warren Chair of Astrophysics at the University of Tasmania and CNRS Research Director at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris. “It offers a glimpse of what our solar system will look like after the Earth disappears, caused by the cataclysmic disappearance of our Sun.”

A crystal ball in the future of our solar system

Artist rendering of Jupiter and its white dwarf host. If humans survive to see the Sun die, they could theoretically move to a Jovian moon and stay in orbit safely. However, they couldn’t rely on the diminished heat of our Sun’s stellar corpse once it collapsed into a white dwarf. Credit: WM Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko

The research team plans to include their findings in a statistical study to find out how many other white dwarfs have intact planetary survivors.

NASA’s next mission, the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope (formerly known as WFIRST), which aims to directly image giant planets, will help further their investigation. Roman will be able to do a much more complete study of the planets orbiting white dwarfs located throughout the galactic bulge at the center of the Milky Way. This will allow astronomers to determine whether it is common for Jupiter-like planets to escape their star’s last days, or if a significant fraction of them are destroyed by the time their host stars become red giants.

“This is an extremely exciting result,” says John O’Meara, chief scientist at Keck Observatory. “It’s wonderful to see today an example of the kind of science Keck will do en masse when Roman begins his mission.”


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More information:
Joshua Blackman, a Jovian analogue orbiting a white dwarf star, Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-021-03869-6

Provided by the WM Keck Observatory

Quote: A crystal ball in the future of our solar system (2021, October 13) retrieved October 13, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-10-crystal-ball-solar-future.html

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