A recently discovered dead star challenges concepts of the evolution of planetary systems


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A German citizen discovered a new space object via a project that encourages non-professional astronomers to join in the search for a large planet on the periphery of our solar system.

The discovery was made by Melina Thevenot, a German who volunteered for NASA to help the space agency find brown dwarfs as part of the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project.

The project volunteers are sorting out data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, a now-retired NASA space telescope, which had swept the entire sky in infrared, producing more than 2.7 million of them. images and a catalog of more than 700 million space objects.

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Melina, who had already discovered several hundred new brown dwarf candidates, first thought that the body of space on which she had fallen might as well be a brown dwarf, an object too big to be called a planet and Too small to be a star. However, it turned out to be a lot brighter and was eventually classified as a white dwarf – the remains of a star that burned all its hydrogen.

This object, named LSPM J0207 + 3331 or J0207, is located about 145 light-years from our planet in the constellation Capricorn and is three billion years old, with a temperature of about 5,800 degrees Celsius.

According to a study published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters (it can be read for free here), it generated a comparable amount of infrared radiation, which led scientists to think that it could be surrounded by a circumstellar disk hot.

What has puzzled scientists is that young white dwarves are more likely to form such a disc, but J0207 is not qualified as a young star.

"This white dwarf is so old that any process that powers its ring must operate on time scales of billions of years," said John Debes of Baltimore's Space Telescope Science Institute. "Most of the models that scientists have created to explain the rings around white dwarfs only work up to about 100 million years ago, so this star challenges our assumptions about how planetary systems evolve. "

Another mystery is that the J0207 disc consists of two ring-shaped elements: a colder outer ring and a warmer inner ring. This is something that has never been seen before in the circumstellar discs surrounding the white dwarves, and researchers hope to observe it again and get more data.

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