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

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J0207 (or LSPM J0207+3331 for the purists), a dead star is recently discovered by a citizen scientist working with NASA, and its discovery may provide insights and a window into what our solar system become billions of years from now.

Melina Thévenot, a citizen scientist from Germany, detected an unusual anomaly while searching through data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft. She initially believed that it was only a bad data, but through a thorough second look in the images from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, she decided that the data could be valuable and sent them to the team working on the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen scientist project.

At the project’s headquarters, the team decided to follow up on the finding and repositioned the Keck II telescope in Hawaii to study the anomaly further. With a more unobstructed view, the image in the Keck II confirmed that the defect was not bad data at all. It is, in fact, the oldest and coldest white dwarf that has ever been spotted and documented. It is also said to have a strange and peculiar set of dusty rings. The discovery was published Tuesday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“This white dwarf is so old that whatever process is feeding material into its rings must operate on billion-year timescales,” said John Debes, an astronomer and lead author on the study. “This star is really challenging our assumptions of how planetary systems evolve.”

J0207, the newly discovered dead star is about the size of Earth and is located around 145 light-years from our planet. Interestingly, the team said that the dead star has two disks of dusty material which is the first known white dwarf to exhibit such a characteristic and weird phenomenon.

“What makes this new white dwarf so interesting is that it’s much older than the typical dusty white dwarf,” said Debes. “That is hard to explain with our current models of how asteroids get kicked into inner white dwarf systems, but somehow Nature knows how to do it.”   

It was known that dusty disks form around these bodies like planets and stars when asteroid and comets are trapped in their gravitational pull. As they come closer to the dead star, its gravity begins to break them into smaller pieces that will constantly orbit the body.

Oddly, white dwarfs as old as J0207 generally don’t maintain their dust rings as all orbiting material will start to fall into the star. This unusual phenomenon has puzzled the researchers, and they have announced to conduct follow up missions to resolve such exciting anomaly. /apr

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