NASA detects an intact planet orbiting a white dwarf

Hyperaxion Sep 18, 2020

The discovery suggests that a Jupiter-sized exoplanet would have survived the death of its star and started to orbit the remains.

Using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the retired Spitzer Space Telescope, a team of astronomers found what may be the first intact planet orbiting close to a white dwarf, the remaining superdense stellar corpse after the death of a star.

The article with the results of the discovery was recently published in the journal Nature.

NASA detects an intact planet orbiting a white dwarf
(Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center).

The exoplanet, called WD 1856 b, is about the size of Jupiter and orbits 3.05 million kilometers (1.89 million miles) from its white dwarf, called WD 1856+534, which is only 40% larger than Earth.

“WD 1856 b somehow got very close to its white dwarf and managed to stay in one piece. The white dwarf creation process destroys nearby planets, and anything that later gets too close is usually torn apart by the star’s immense gravity,” said lead author Andrew Vanderburg, a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We still have many questions about how WD 1856 b arrived at its current location without meeting one of those fates.”

Hypotheses

Some hypotheses were formulated to explain how the planet may have reached its current location.

One suggests that WD 1856 b may have gotten a little push from other Jupiter-sized objects in the system, bringing the planet closer to the dead star, while the strong gravitational pull of the white dwarf may have helped the exoplanet to stabilize its orbit.

Other possibilities include the gravitational influence of two red dwarfs (small and cold stars) on the system, but scientists believe the first hypothesis is the most likely.

Check out a video made by NASA about the discovery of the exoplanet WD 1856 b:

(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center).

Related topics:

NASA White dwarf

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