Scientists have identified a massive planet orbiting a white dwarf for the first time. Such a thing is providing us a new expanse to study for planets and a unique sight into the future of our Solar System. The discovery indicated that there might be more of these massive planets rotating dead stars. Scientists who identified the first planet approximate that one in 10,000 white dwarfs have massive planets orbiting them at a close distance.
Noris Gansicke, the first author of the Nature study, explained the importance of such a discovery. He detailed, “For the past 20 years, it’s been more and clear that there are remnants of planetary systems around white dwarfs. There was the general agreement that those white dwarfs should have proper planets orbiting them, but none had been found so far.”
Gansicke started by looking into white dwarf WDJ0914+1914 after he examined a spectrum, a type of optical measurement that can show you which components are existing on a star’s area. He found oxygen as the sole present element, one that had never been identified before in a white dwarf.
Scientists Discovered An Exoplanet Orbiting an Inactive Star
Moreover, Gansicke chose to rerun some tests and recorded another spectrum of the white dwarf with the world’s most advanced optical telescopes in Chile, known as the Very Large Telescope. He stated, “It was crystal clear that there was something extremely exciting going on in the system because we detected emissions of hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur immediately. […] they must come from around the star, not from the star itself.”
Furthermore, the team of researchers understood that icy giants like Neptune or Uranus posses layers made of ice and hydrogen sulfide. Those elements, H20 and H2S, would represent all three odd components present in the spectrum. Also, according to their study, these components would end up on the star’s area when the white dwarf sublimates small parts of the massive planet.
Researchers expected the planet to realize a full orbit around the white dwarf in 10 days. Gansicke expressed his desire to find more about the structure of the massive planet orbiting the white dwarf.
The study was also made by looking at the spectra of 7,000 other white dwarfs to identify if they could discover signals showing the existence of oxygen. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a thing besides WDJ0914+1914.