It turns out that stars like our sun don’t have to be strong and alive for planets to be able to live around them. Scientists found what might be a “major planet” going around a sun that is going out. This planet might be able to support life in the future.
Researchers from University College London made the “surprising” find while looking at a white dwarf. A white dwarf is the burning remains of a star that ran out of hydrogen fuel. About 117 light years separate us from it. This star, which is called WD1054-226, has a ring of planetary debris in its habitable zone, also called the Goldilocks zone, where temperatures should be just right for liquid water to exist on the surface of a planet.
If the new planet turns out to be a world that can support life, it will be the first time a planet has been found around a dying sun that can support life.
Scientists found out about it while watching the light from the white dwarf. They wrote about it in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. They found big drops in light that were consistent with 65 clouds of debris that circled WD1054-226 every 25 hours, according to what they found.
Jay Farihi, the study’s lead author and a professor of physics and astronomy at UCL, said, “The moon-sized structures we’ve seen are irregular and dusty (like comets), not solid, spherical bodies.”
He said that the structures were a “mystery we can’t explain,” but he suggested that a nearby planet could be a “unexpected” answer.
He said, “It’s exciting to think that the gravity of a nearby planet might be keeping these bodies in such an even orbital pattern.” Without this effect, friction and collisions would make the structures spread out and lose their regularity. One example of something similar to this “shepherding” is how the pull of the moons around Neptune and Saturn helps to keep the rings around these planets stable. We didn’t want to find this.”
It’s exciting to think that there might be a “major planet” in the habitable zone of the star, but he stresses that this hasn’t been proven yet. Farihi said that his team still needs more proof, which may be hard to get since they can’t see the planet directly. To get a better idea of what’s going on, they may need to use computer models and make more observations of the star and the debris that circles around it.
The team thinks that if there is a planet, it probably just formed recently and will be able to support life for at least 2 billion years, including at least 1 billion years in the future.
Scientists may also be able to learn more about our solar system because more than 95% of all stars, including our sun, will turn into white dwarfs in the end.