What does this “surviving” exoplanet tell us about the future of the Solar System?

A team of astronomers at the University of Tasmania, Australia, has discovered a planetary system that shows us a scenario similar to the one that awaits the Solar System when the Sun dies. With the help of the WM Keck Observatory, they discovered a system formed by a gas giant planet similar to Jupiter, which survived the death of its star and thus orbits a white dwarf.

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  • Thanks to high resolution images taken by the telescope, they found that the white dwarf has about 40% of the Sun’s mass, while the surviving exoplanet has about 40% more mass than Jupiter. “This system gives us an idea of ​​what the Solar System will be like after the Earth disappears, swallowed by the death of the Sun”, explained Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, co-author of the study.

    Check out the animation below, which represents the end of life of a Sun-like star:

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    This video illustrates what happens after the Sun, like other main sequence stars, runs out of fuel to carry out the nuclear fusion that sustains its structure. As a result, these stars swell and become red giants, and then collapse onto their structure until they shrink. There will come a point where they will become a hot and dense core, thus called “white dwarfs”.

    The team managed to rule out the possibility of the planet orbiting something different, such as a neutron star or a black hole, and concluded that it really is a dead star. So Joshua Blackman, leader of the study, explains that the evidence from this system confirms that planets orbiting stars great enough distances can survive their death. “Considering that this system is an analogue of the Solar System, it suggests that Jupiter and Saturn can survive the red giant phase of the Sun, when it runs out of nuclear fuel and self-destructs,” he explained.

    The bad news is that, as the Earth is closer to the Sun, we would not have that luck and our planet could very well be swallowed by the expansion of the red giant. “If humanity wanted to move to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Sun fried the Earth during the red supergiant phase, we would still be in orbit around it, but we couldn’t depend on its heat as a white dwarf for long.” noted David Bennett, another co-author of the study.

    In the future, the authors hope to include their findings in a statistical study to find out how many other white dwarfs have surviving planets orbiting them.

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

    Source: Keck Observatory

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