Our sun will run out of fuel in the distant future and become a white dwarf after going through a red giant phase. Astronomers at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii have discovered a distant planetary system that resembles the future fate of our solar system. The star system has a Jupiter-like gas giant that orbits at a distance from its star similar to Jupiter.
That Jupiter-like gas giant orbits a white dwarf star near the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers say the discovery confirms that planets orbiting at a distance far enough away from their host star can survive the star’s death. Scientists describe the newly discovered solar system as an analog to our own, and its discovery suggests that Jupiter and Saturn might survive the red giant phase of the sun.
Study co-author David Bennett says since the Earth is closer to the sun than Jupiter, it wouldn’t survive. However, he believes if humans moved to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Earth was destroyed, we would remain in orbit around the sun. However, humans in that distant future would be unable to rely on heat produced by the white dwarf for long.
The sun is a main-sequence star, and went it runs out of nuclear fuel, it ultimately becomes a white dwarf when it dies. When the star burns off all of the hydrogen in its core, it first swells into a red giant, which will destroy planets orbiting too close to the star. After the red giant phase, the star collapses on itself and becomes a white dwarf.
A white dwarf is a hot and dense core typically the size of Earth carrying half the sun’s mass. White dwarfs have no fuel allowing them to burn brightly as the sun does, making them faint and difficult to discover. Astronomers at the Keck Observatory observed the target solar system using laser guide star adaptive optics system and the observatory’s Near-Infrared Camera. The white dwarf discovered is about 60 percent of the mass of our sun, and the gas giant is about 40 percent more massive than Jupiter.