Planetary bodies observed for the first time in the habitable zone of a dead star

(ORDO NEWS) — A ring of planetary debris, rich in moon-sized structures, astronomers observed in a new study at a short distance from the white dwarf – and these observations indicate the presence of a planet in the “habitable zone”, where water necessary for life can exist on the surface of the planet in liquid form.

White dwarfs are the dying remnants of stars that have used up all their “stellar fuel”. Almost all stars, including the Sun, will eventually become white dwarfs, but scientists still know very little about the planetary systems surrounding such dead stars.

In their new work, a team led by Jay Farihi, a professor at University College London, UK, has studied a white dwarf lying within the Milky Way called WD1054-226 using data collected from ground-based and space-based observatories.

To their surprise, the researchers found brightness minima corresponding to 65 evenly slit-separated planetary debris that orbit the star with a period of 25 hours.

The authors concluded that the exact periodicity of these structures’ transits in front of the star’s disk – resulting in a star’s dimming every 23 minutes – indicates that their spatial arrangement is ordered by the nearby planet’s gravity.

“These structures, the size of planetary satellites, are irregular in shape and consist mainly of dust (that is, they look like comets), that is, they are not solid spherical bodies. The exact frequency of their transits is a mystery that we have not yet solved.”

“One tempting possibility is that these bodies are kept at equal distances from each other due to the gravitational influence of a nearby planet.

Without such an influence, friction and collisions would lead to scattering of structures, as a result of which the regularity that we observe would become impossible.


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