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When stars like our Sun exhaust their hydrogen fuel, they enter what is known as their Red-Giant-Branch (RGB) phase. This is characterized by the star expanding to several times it original size, after which they shed their outer layers and become compact white dwarfs. Over the next few billion years, it is believed that these stars will slowly consume any objects and dust rings still close enough to be influenced by their gravity.
However, a citizen scientist named Melina Thévenot recently made a surprising discovery when observing a white dwarf system. Based on data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, this star has been a white dwarf for billions of years, but still has multiple rings of dust around it. Known as LSPM J0207+3331 (or J0207), this discovery could force researchers to reconsider models of planetary systems.
Discovery - Backyard - Worlds - Planet - Project
The discovery was made through Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, a project led by Marc Kuchner (an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center) that relies on volunteers to sort through WISE data for new discoveries. Located around 145 light-years away in the constellation Capricornus, astronomers suspect that J0207 might be the first known example of a white dwarf with multiple dust rings, and the oldest.
The discovery was also the subject of a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal (“A 3 Gyr White Dwarf with Warm Dust Discovered via the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 Citizen Science Project“). As John Debes, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and the lead author on the paper, revealed in a recent NASA press release:
Dwarf - Process - Material - Rings - Timescales
“This white dwarf is so old that whatever process is feeding material into its rings must operate on billion-year timescales. Most of the models scientists have created to explain rings around white dwarfs only work well up to around 100...
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