The James Webb Space Telescope captures exoplanets like solar system giants orbiting white dwarfs, the future form of our Sun.

by alex

A discovery that reveals the possible fate of the solar system

Scientists have come to the conclusion that dying stars are capable of causing eruptions and the release of huge masses into space. This also applies to the Sun, which in the future will become a red giant, extending to Mars, before catastrophically losing its outer shell and its core collapsing into a super-dense white dwarf.

However, what will happen to the Earth and other planets after the extinction of the Sun? Will they wander around the Galaxy due to a disturbance in their orbit or will they fall into the arms of a white dwarf? Is it possible that these planets will remain quietly orbiting an obsolete star as it slowly cools over billions of years? A new discovery may help answer these questions and reveal the possible fate of the solar system.

Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers were able to directly image two gas giant exoplanets orbiting white dwarfs. «If confirmed, — writes a team led by astronomer Susan Mullally of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), — These will be the first direct images of planets that are similar in age and distance to the giant planets in our solar system, and they demonstrate that widely giant planets such as Jupiter are able to survive the evolution of a star.

Exoplanets cannot usually be observed directly. There are now over 5,500 exoplanets confirmed and thousands more candidates discovered, but most of these discoveries have been indirect. Astronomers observe the planet's effect on the brightness of a star during a transit passage before the «gaze of a telescope» and based on these data they draw conclusions about the properties of the planet.

It is very difficult to identify exoplanets directly due to their small size and the huge difference in the magnitude of the light emission of exoplanets and the star. However, the James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful telescope among space observatories, which allowed astronomers to discover giant exoplanets orbiting two white dwarfs — WD 1202-232 and WD 2105-82, at distances of 34 and 53 light years from Earth, respectively. The exact masses of these planets are currently unknown, but images suggest their mass could be 1 to 7 times that of Jupiter. More accurate results may be obtained in the future.

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Космический телескоп «Джеймс Уэбб» запечатлел экзопланеты, подобные гигантам из Солнечной системы, которые обращаются вокруг белых карликов — будущей формы нашего Солнца

What's even more interesting is the orbital distance between white dwarfs and their planets. The first exoplanet orbiting WD 1202-232 is located at a distance of 11.47 astronomical units, — which is slightly larger than Saturn, which orbits the Sun at a distance of 9.5 astronomical units. The second exoplanet orbiting WD 2105-82 has an orbital distance of 34.62 AU, which is comparable to Neptune's orbital distance of 30 AU. 

This discovery may indicate that exoplanets with orbital distances similar to the outer planets of the solar system can survive the catastrophic death of their stars and remain in their orbit.

Few exoplanets have been discovered around white dwarfs so far, and scientists have limited information that could help predict the fate of the solar system. It is known that white dwarfs can devour nearby planets, this is confirmed by analysis of their atmospheres. 

JWST discoveries have not yet been confirmed, — two objects could be galaxies in the background — although researchers think this is unlikely. These two candidate planets will be an important part of the story of what happens to a planetary system when a star reaches the end of its life cycle.

Scientists intend to continue additional research to determine the nature of these planets and obtain additional data: «If confirmed, these giant planets will be the first directly imaged planets that are similar in age to mass and orbital distance with the giant planets in our solar system».

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