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How will our solar system end?  A distant planet offers hints

How will our solar system end? A distant planet offers hints

A dark planet orbiting the faint remnant of a burning star about 6,000 light-years from Earth shows what our solar system will look like at the end of its existence, according to astronomers.

The distant survivor, described in the study Posted last week In Nature, it appears to be a gas giant similar to Jupiter and provides a snapshot of a planetary system around a dying star, according to the study’s authors.

The star is now a “white dwarf” – a shimmering stellar remnant left over from the “red giant” phase of its demise, when it expanded tens of thousands of times after using hydrogen fuel for its nuclear fusion reactions and then collapsed a few hundred million years later.

Any planets closer to the star would likely have been destroyed – and the same fate is likely to happen infect our world When the sun burns out all the hydrogen after another 5 billion years or so.

Stars like the Sun grow tens of thousands of times into a red giant phase after burning all their nuclear fuel, before collapsing into the faint remnant of a “white dwarf.”WM Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko

“When the sun’s balloons blast outward in what is known as its red giant phase, it will likely wipe out Mercury, Venus, and possibly Earth,” said Joshua Blackman, an astronomer at the University of Tasmania in Australia and lead author of the new study.

The sun would become too hot for anything on Earth to survive well before then, he said, and the red giant phase would cause lava lakes, fractured continents, and devastating explosions of intense ionizing radiation — if it didn’t fragment our entire planet. in a letter.

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But it’s not all bad news: Mars and its outer gas giants – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – are expected to survive the sun’s burn. Now the discovery of a distant planet orbiting a white dwarf reinforces that idea.

“Our discovery is evidence that the standard picture of how planetary systems evolve as their host star dies is likely to be correct,” Blackman said.

The newly discovered white dwarf was spotted toward the center of our galaxy by a gravitational effect called a “microlensing” as it passed in front of a more distant star.

The white dwarf’s gravity caused the distant star to appear brighter for a few years – a short flash in cosmic time – as its mass focuses on the light through it. gravity lensSaid Jean-Philippe Beaulieu of the Astrophysics Institute in Paris, who led the research and is a co-author on the new study. A second flash of light revealed the orbiting planet.

In fact, the white dwarf system was never discovered due to only the fine lens. Although the team tried to observe it using giant telescopes in Keck Observatory in Hawaii, it has proven to be too dim to be seen.

They hope to get better results soon with James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to be launched in December and which will be able to monitor the dark system directly, Beaulieu said.

The mass of the gas giant is about 1.4 times that of Jupiter and orbits from 260 million miles to 600 million miles from the white dwarf, Blackman said.

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Although it likely formed far away from the star from its current orbit, the contraction of the host star after its red giant phase didn’t get so close that it fragmented, which has been postulated in some models.

“We think that the planet has probably survived the red giant phase of its star evolution,” he said.

The new discovery is further evidence that planets can survive the demise of their stars, said Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy and director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University.

Kaltenegger was not involved in the latest research, but she was part of a team that reported a different discovery A giant planet orbiting a white dwarf star Late last year – the first person ever seen.

However, that study showed that the planet completes a full orbit every 1.4 days – so it’s much closer to a white dwarf than Mercury is to the Sun.

This fate is likely to happen here when the sun runs out of fuel in billions of years, the researchers say.WM Keck Observatory / Adam Makarenko

It likely formed much farther away, Kaltenegger said, but spiraled inward as the star shrank until it stopped a few million miles away.

Taken together, both discoveries show that exoplanets — and possibly their moons — can survive the demise of their stars, although their final orbits appear to depend on their conditions, she said.

Although the remnants of white dwarfs don’t produce much light, they do produce enough heat to warm their inner planets, which means life could still exist in such a planetary system when its star “dies” in this way — perhaps under the icy crusts of The moons of gas giants, such as Europa Jupiter and Enceladus SaturnShe said.

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