Astronomers Detect First-Ever Planet Closely Orbiting a White Dwarf

Astronomers Detect First-Ever Planet Closely Orbiting a White Dwarf

For the first time, a team of astronomers has detected a planet orbiting a white dwarf at a very close distance, circling it every 34 hours. Most excitingly, the discovery indicates that planets could eventually end up in a white dwarf’s habitable zone — where they would theoretically be able to sustain life. The planet, dubbed WD 1586b and weighing in at 13.8 times the mass of Jupiter, orbits its host star 80 light-years from Earth in the Draco constellation, as detailed in a paper published today in the prestigious journal Nature. “So far, no intact planets have been detected in close orbits around white dwarfs,” the researchers note in the paper. “The discovery came as something of a surprise,” lead author Andrew Vanderburg, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab) statement. “A previous example of a similar system, where an object was seen to pass in front of a white dwarf, showed only a debris field from a disintegrating asteroid.” “We were using [NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey] satellite to search for transiting debris around white dwarfs, and to try to understand how the process of planetary destruction happens,” Vanderburg explained. “We were not necessarily expecting to find a planet that appeared to be intact.” The discovery points toward the possibility that large planets are capable of surviving their host star’s final evolutionary stage. “Because no debris from the planet was detected floating on the star’s surface or surrounding it ...
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