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Dead star and exoplanet show the aftermath of a star’s self-destruction

The newly discovered planetary system could give clues about the fate of our solar system

the artist's depiction of a newly discovered Jupiter-like exoplanet

The artist’s depiction of a newly discovered Jupiter-like exoplanet orbiting a dead star.

October 26, 2021

Astronomers at the WM Keck Observatory have discovered a planetary system near the center of the Milky Way galaxy that experienced the death of its star, similar to what is expected when our sun explodes. The system is composed of a gas giant exoplanet larger than Jupiter, orbiting a white dwarf star or dead star that is about 40% smaller than the Sun. The researchers, supported by the US National Science Foundation, published the results in Nature.

With this discovery, scientists now have evidence that planets can survive the death of a star. Studying the planetary system will reveal more about what happens to planets orbiting dead stars. Evidence suggests that distant planets are more likely to appear altered but not destroyed. For example, Jupiter and Saturn in the Earth’s solar system could survive the sun’s self-destruction and exist without the sun’s heat and light.

“Earth’s future may not be so rosy because it’s much closer to the sun,” said co-author David Bennett, a senior researcher at the University of Maryland. “If humanity wanted to move to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Sun fried the Earth during its red supergiant phase, we would still remain in orbit around the sun, even if we would not be able to rely on heat from the sun as a white dwarf for a very long time. “

Scientists are implementing an initiative to catalog white dwarf stars with intact planets. The data collected will allow astronomers to assess how often exoplanets are spared the same fate as their stars.

“This is an extremely exciting result,” said John O’Meara, chief scientist at WM Keck Observatory. “It’s wonderful to see an example of the kind of science Keck will do galore” in the future.


NSF Public Affairs,
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