NASA Citizen Scientist Discovers The Oldest, Coldest Dead Star In Record

James Marshall
February 22, 2019

A citizen scientists who usually works with NASA detected a unusual, distant space object. That event would tidy up the inner solar system like a cosmic Marie Kondo, and then see the star collapse into a white dwarf, its gravity dissipate and the planets at the edge of the system drift away.

Scientists think it could be the first white dwarf with multiple dust rings, with the find forcing astronomers to "reconsider models of planetary systems and [it] could help us learn about the distant future of our solar system", a NASA representative said.

This ancient dead star, now called J0207 (or LSPM J0207+3331), is no bigger than the Earth and lurks from 145 light-years from our world.

Between 1% and 4% of white dwarfs emit a signal that indicates a dust ring or disk, possibly leftover from the asteroids and comets pulled around the star and ripped to pieces. Yet what puzzled astronomers from Arizona State University who followed up on the discovery was the fact that the white dwarf is three times older than any other white dwarf known to harbour such a disc. Weirdly, white dwarfs this old generally don't maintain their dusty disks - all the material slowly falls into the star.

The oldest, coldest white dwarf known to be surrounded by a ring of dusty debris. Previously, dust disks and rings had only been observed surrounding white dwarfs about one-third J0207's age.

"This white dwarf is so old that whatever process is feeding material into its ring must operate on billion-year timescales", said John Debes from the Baltimore-based Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

The NASA citizen scientist, Melina Thevenot from Germany, spotted the weird dead star as she was examining the data gathered by the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite.

The German scientist had been searching for brown dwarfs - objects larger than planets but smaller than stars - when she found something much brighter and further away.

NASA has announced that a volunteer working with the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project has made a very impressive discovery.

The Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 team repositioned the Keck II telescope in Hawaii to take a better look at the mysterious space object Melina Thevenot found.

Debes compared the population of asteroid belt analogs in white dwarf systems to the grains of sand in an hourglass.

The project has already reaped many rewards, with a brown dwarf, a type of "failed star", discovered only six days after the project began and over a thousand similar objects discovered since.

"This object was found by Melina Thévenot of Germany using the Backyard Worlds project", Kuchner said. "Now that we've rebooted the website with double the amount of WISE data, we're looking forward to even more exciting discoveries". The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Boulder, Colorado.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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