Citizen scientist finds ancient white dwarf star encircled by puzzling rings

ScienceDaily | 2/19/2019 | Staff
samtetley (Posted by) Level 3
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The star, LSPM J0207+3331 or J0207 for short, is forcing researchers to reconsider models of planetary systems and could help us learn about the distant future of our solar system.

"This white dwarf is so old that whatever process is feeding material into its rings must operate on billion-year timescales," said John Debes, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. "Most of the models scientists have created to explain rings around white dwarfs only work well up to around 100 million years, so this star is really challenging our assumptions of how planetary systems evolve."

Paper - Findings - Debes - Feb - Issue

A paper detailing the findings, led by Debes, was published in the Feb. 19 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters and is now available online.

J0207 is located around 145 light-years away in the constellation Capricornus. White dwarfs slowly cool as they age, and Debes' team calculated J0207 is about 3 billion years old based on a temperature just over 10,500 degrees Fahrenheit (5,800 degrees Celsius). A strong infrared signal picked up by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission -- which mapped the entire sky in infrared light -- suggested the presence of dust, making J0207 the oldest and coldest white dwarf with dust yet known. Previously, dust disks and rings had only been observed surrounding white dwarfs about one-third J0207's age.

Star - Fuel - Giant - Half - Mass

When a Sun-like star runs out of fuel, it swells into a red giant, ejects at least half of its mass, and leaves behind a very hot white dwarf. Over the course of the star's giant phase, planets and asteroids close to the star become engulfed and incinerated. Planets and asteroids farther away survive, but move outward as their orbits expand. That's because when the star loses mass, its gravitational influence on surrounding objects is greatly reduced.

This scenario describes the future of our...
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