Scientists Find First-Ever Jupiter-Sized Planet Orbiting a Dead Star

Planet found orbiting a dead white dwarf star says new research

This slow death is usually very lonely. WD 1856 is now only 40% larger than Earth.

Thanks to a bevy of telescopes in space and on Earth - and even a pair of amateur astronomers in Arizona - a University of Wisconsin-Madison astronomer and his colleagues have discovered a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting at breakneck speed around a distant white dwarf star.

The planet in question is called WD 1856 b and is about the same size as Jupiter and seven times larger than the star it orbits. The contributing telescopes included NASA's exoplanet-hunting telescope TESS and two giant ground-based telescopes within the Canary Islands. A huge reduction in brightness was seen when the team looked at WD 1856.

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But until now no intact planets had been detected in orbit around one of the dead stars.

This is a white dwarf, which is an extremely dense stellar ember that glows faintly with residual heat energy and slowly fades over billions of years. However, that detection was based on light being emitted by a disk of debris and gas surrounding the star, which the researchers suggest must have been stripped from a Neptune-like planet.

"The white dwarf creation process destroys nearby planets, and anything that later gets too close is usually torn apart by the star's vast gravity", Vanderburg said in a NASA news release.

After simulating the various scenarios, the authors suggest that WD 1586b may have been thrown into close orbit due to interactions with other planets. However, this process is incredibly brief because the planet completes a full orbit every 1.4 days. It circles this stellar cinder every 34 hours, more than 60 times faster than Mercury orbits our Sun.


"This system is quite odd", said Simon Campbell, an astrophysicist at Monash University, Australia. They estimate that WD 1586 b is no more than 14 times the mass of Jupiter.

The star in question is known as WD 1856, and it was probably somewhat sun-like in the past.

The team thinks these and other explanations are less likely because they require finely tuned conditions to achieve the same effects as the potential giant companion planets.

The team believe that the planet was initially 50 times father away in its orbit than it now is, before the star died. Irregular cosmic dance may have helped a planetary body like WD 1856 b fly towards the star, which has been orbiting ever since. "Later, after the star became a white dwarf, the planet must have moved closer to the star".

Astronomers have used the worldwide Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF's NOIRLab, and other telescopes around the globe and in space to find and characterize a giant planet, less than 13.8 times as massive as Jupiter [1], orbiting a white dwarf star [2][3]. "This is where an observation such as this is important".

According to researchers, the star was able to survive the expansion phase by removing some outer layers. However, they conclude our current theories on this process most likely suggest it was not formed in such a manner.

It's easier to detect larger exoplanets with quick orbital periods, and WD 1856 b certainly fits that description. They point out Upcoming, but long overdue, James Webb telescope And the Gemini Laboratory as keys to a better understanding of WD 1856 b. Therefore, life can also be expected on such a planet. Further research is required to confirm that conclusion and allow scientists to decisively know that they have spotted the first such example of a planet in close orbit around a white dwarf. "It'd be a pretty weird system, and you'd have to think about how the planets actually survived all that time", he said. Some white dwarfs show evidence for rocky material foating in their atmospheres5, in warm debris disks6-9 or orbiting very closely10-12, which has been interpreted as the debris of rocky planets that were scattered inwards and tidally disrupted13. When our sun begins to set, it swells to the point where it expands beyond the orbit of Mars. Such a white dwarf system could even provide a rare habitable arrangement for life to arise in the light of a dying star.

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