When our sun enters its death throes in about five billion years, it will incinerate our planet and then dramatically collapse into a dead ember known as a white dwarf. But the fate of more distant planets, such as Jupiter or Saturn, is less clear.
On Wednesday in the journal Nature, astronomers reported observing a tantalizing preview of our solar system’s afterlife: a Jupiter-size planet orbiting a white dwarf some 6,500 light years from here.
Known as MOA-2010-BLG-477Lb, the planet occupies a comparable orbit to Jupiter. The discovery not only offers a glimpse into our cosmic future, it raises the possibility that any life on “survivor” worlds may endure the deaths of their stars.
“While there is quite a lot of evidence of rocky planetary debris orbiting around white dwarfs, we have very few data points of intact planets,” said Joshua Blackman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tasmania and lead author of the study.