The Jupiter-sized planet orbits a type of star called a white dwarf, and alludes to what our solar system might be like when the sun goes out.
When our sun goes into its agony in about five billion years, it will incinerate our planet and then dramatically collapse into a dead embers known as the white dwarf.the fate of more distant planets, such as Jupiter or Saturn, is less clear.
Wednesday in the journal Nature , astronomers have reported observing a tantalizing glimpse of the beyond of our solar system: a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting a white dwarf some 6,500 light-years away here.
Known as MOA-2010-BLG-477Lb, the planet occupies an orbit comparable to that of Jupiter. The discovery not only offers a glimpse into our cosmic future, but raises the possibility that all life on "surviving" worlds may suffer the death of their stars.
“Although there is ample evidence of rocky planetary debris orbiting white dwarfs, we have veryfew data points from intact planets, "said Joshua Blackman, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tasmania and lead author of the study.
"The fate of our solar system is likely to be similar to M OA-2010-BLG-477Lb," he added in an email. "The sun will become a white dwarf, the inner planets will be engulfed and larger orbiting planets like Jupiter and Saturn will survive. ”
The planet was first spotted due to the warping effects of light from its gravitational field, a phenomenon known as a microlens. After years of searching for its host star with the Keck II telescope in Hawaii, Dr. Blackman and his colleagues concluded that it was orbiting a white dwarf too weak to be observed directly.
Astronomers using a different method reported last year that it spotted another intact Jupiter-like planet known as WD 1856b in narrow orbit around a white dwarf . But MOA-2010-BLG-477Lb circles its hidden stellar envelope nearly three times the distance between Earth and the sun, making it the first known planet to occupy a Jupiter-like orbit around a white dwarf. WD 1856b, on the other hand, orbits its white dwarf every 1.4 days, suggesting that it migrated to its current position after the death of its star, although the exact mechanics of this trip are still being hashed . Image
An artist 's concept of a ring of debris emanating from the sun then that it collapses into a white dwarf in about five billion years. Credit ... Adam Makarenko / WM Keck Observatory
Andrew Vanderburg, Assistant professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who led the team that discovered WD 1856b, said the new study's findings appear solid. He also noted that planets with wide orbits around white dwarfs are probably more abundant than those in tight orbits, but that the latter group is easier to detect.
" If I had to guess I would say theirs is a much more common population because it ishe just has to stay there and nothing happens to him, "said Dr Vandenberg. "This seems to me to be the most likely outcome, at least at this point in the history of the universe.
The New Findings can give information on the search for alien life and potential habitability of white dwarf systems. Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, has suggested that some life-bearing star systems may even experience what she calls a " second genesis in which new organisms emerge in the reconfigured fallout of a white dwarf system.
"I find the study fascinating because it adds to the growing evidence that planets may ssurvive the death of their star, which leads to intriguing questions about the future of the cosmos, "said Dr Kaltenegger, who was part of the team that discovered WD 1856b, in an e- mail. "If the planets can survive the death of their stars, so can life?
Dying stars spit out harmful radiation when they develop into a phase called a red giant, and introduce turbulence into their systems that could wipe out life. But there are certain speculative scenarios that could preserve the habitability of white dwarf systems.
"There are a lot of things that need to be okay " said Dr Vanderburg. He imagines a distant planet from a red giant star which then approaches i ts sun but conserves "enough water to potentially be a good place to live" when the star turns into a white dwarf.
Because white dwarfs are small and dark, such a planet would have to be in a very close orbit for liquid water to exist. However, if life were to emerge on a world like Jupiter's moon Europe, which contained an underground ocean, it could potentially survive at a greater distance from the star.
" If humanity is still here in five billion years, we would probably have a better chance of surviving the red giant phase of the sun on a moon in Jupiter than on Earth ", said Dr Blackman.
Although the existence of life around white dwarfs remains a question of speculation, new generation observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope , could help provide concrete answers to some of these evocative questions. As more and more intact planets are spotted orbiting white dwarfs, scientists will have a clearer picture of the life and beyond of these mysterious systems.
"This is the first detection of a planet orbiting a white dwarf performed using the microlens technique ", a concluded Dr Blackman, "but certainly not the last.
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