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Giant planet found orbiting a dead white dwarf star

September 16, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

In this illustration, WD 1856b, a giant planet, orbits its dim white dwarf star every day and a half.

For the first time, a planet has been discovered orbiting a white dwarf, also known as a dead star. The Jupiter-size planet completes an orbit every 34 hours around the Earth-size star. Astronomers believe life could exist on planets in close orbits around white dwarfs.

(CNN)For the first time, a planet has been discovered orbiting a white dwarf, also known as a dead star.

Finding an intact planet in such a close orbit around a white dwarf raises questions about how it got there, and how it survived the star's evolution into a white dwarf.

Their simulations suggested that when the star became a white dwarf, the planet was kicked closer in.

"We think this star died and became a white dwarf roughly six billion years ago -- so long ago that the Sun, Earth, and solar system hadn't even been formed yet," said Ian Crossfield, study coauthor and assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Kansas, in an email.

"There's a lot of open questions about whether planets can survive the process of a star inflating up to become a red giant, swallowing up some of the inner planets, and then shrinking back down and just being left over as the white dwarf again.

However, the discovery of a planet around a white dwarf raises questions about a unique habitable environment that could exist close to the light of a dying star.

White dwarfs release light and heat as they cool down, so a close planet could actually be in the habitable zone of the star, or the Goldilocks area where the temperature on the planet is just right to support liquid water -- and even potentially life -- on the surface.

"This tells us white dwarfs can have planets, which is something we didn't know before," Crossfield said.

"It seems like white dwarf systems may be a pretty good place to live, if your planet happens to be in the right part of the system," Vanderburg said.

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