Dying Stars May Rejuvenate Old Planets

Posted on June 27, 2015

Dying stars could help rejuvenate old gas giant planets. NASA says it has found tentative evidence for one such planet using its Spitzer Space Telescope. The artist's concept shows the planet around its dead star, a white dwarf named PG 0010+280.

Hypothesized rejuvenated planets would regain their youthful, infrared glow. The idea is that the old planet would accumulate mass from their dying star. Dying stars blow material outward which could fall onto giant planets orbiting it. This could cause the old planet to swell in mass and heat up from the friction felt by the falling material. The old planet could then once again radiate a warm, infrared goal.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has identified one such candidate orbiting PG 0010+280. NASA says the planet is "seemingly looking billions of years younger than its actual age." The unexpected infrared light around the planet was first noticed by Blake Pantoja, an undergraduate student at UCLA at the time. He was using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. Follow-up observations with Spitzer confirmed the excess of infrared light.

Michael Jura of UCLA, coauthor of a research paper on the planet, says in a statement, "When planets are young, they still glow with infrared light from their formation. But as they get older and cooler, you can't see them anymore. Rejuvenated planets would be visible again."

Siyi Xu of UCLA and the European Southern Observatory in Germany, says, "I find the most exciting part of this research is that this infrared excess could potentially come from a giant planet, though we need more work to prove it. If confirmed, it would directly tell us that some planets can survive the red giant stage of stars and be present around white dwarfs."

A research paper about rejuvenated planets was published here in the journal, The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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