A glimpse into the future – we now know what will happen to the Solar System

Astronomers have discovered the first planetary system that resembles the predicted fate of the Solar System when the Sun will be at the end of its days in 5 billion years. It could be like looking into a glass ball, revealing the future of us all.

The planetary system was discovered thanks to the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea on Hawai’i Island. It consists of a planet similar in size and orbit to Jupiter, which orbits a white dwarf near the center of the Milky Way.

– This is proof that planets orbiting far enough away can continue to exist after their star dies. Given that this system is an analogue of the Solar System, this suggests that Jupiter and Saturn may survive the Sun’s red giant phase when it runs out of nuclear fuel, said Joshua Blackman, an astronomer at the University of Tasmania in Australia and lead author of the study.

Unfortunately, Earth’s future is not painted in such colorful hues because our planet is much closer to the Sun than Jupiter. If humanity managed to move to one of Jupiter’s or Saturn’s moons before the Sun turns into a red giant in 5-6 billion years, we could survive.

In the last stages of the life cycle of a main sequence star (like the Sun), it burns up all the hydrogen in its core and turns into a red giant. Then it collapses, shrinking into a white dwarf, which is really just a hot, dense core, usually the size of Earth and half as light as the current Sun. Because they are small and have no nuclear fuel, so they emit no radiation, white dwarfs are difficult to detect.

The system spotted by scientists at Keck Observatory consists of a white dwarf with a mass of about 60 percent that of the Sun with an orbiting exoplanet with a mass that is 40 percent that of Jupiter. The observations were made possible by the technique of gravitational microlensing.

– We were also able to rule out the possibility of a neutron star or a black hole. This means that the planet is orbiting a dead star – a white dwarf. It offers insight into what the Solar System will look like after the disappearance of Earth, prominent in the cataclysm of our Sun – said Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, co-author of the study.

Scientists want to go a step further and estimate how many other white dwarfs have planets that survived the red giant stage and are still orbiting. The planned Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which should be able to track giant planets, will help.

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