A volunteer just discovered a star which shows the fate of the Sun

An interactive Aladin view of the sky surrounding the white dwarf in question (LSPM J0207+3331). The white dwarf is in the crosshairs.

A discovery is made

Extra, extra, read all about it! A woman working with freely-available astronomical data has discovered a star system which looks just like our own solar system will when the Sun dies!

The star in question is a white dwarf: the slowly-cooling core of a star, left behind when a star like the Sun runs out of fuel and casts off its outer layers. We already know about a lot of white dwarfs, but this one comes with a twist– it’s surrounded by a disk of dust, likely the remains of the asteroids which once orbited it! It’s the oldest white dwarf ever discovered with a dusty disk. Perhaps, one day billions of years from now, the atoms in your body will be grains of dust orbiting a very similar-looking star…

Following Melina Thévenot’s discovery, professional observations were scheduled at Apache Point Observatory (home of the SDSS), and when that was clouded out, her object was observed with Keck… the largest optical telescope in the world!


Unrelated white dwarfs litter the field in this image of M4.

Unrelated white dwarfs litter the field in this image of M4. Click to read more.

Learn more

To learn about what we think we know about this white dwarf, read this excellent NASA post:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2019/citizen-scientist-finds-ancient-white-dwarf-star-encircled-by-puzzling-rings

Or read more about the discovery itself in Melina’s own words:

https://blog.backyardworlds.org/2019/02/19/the-crystal-ball-white-dwarf/

(When I first saw the title of Melina’s article, I thought that the white dwarf in question was one of those which has crystallized into a planet-sized diamond: yes, that’s a thing!)


Volunteer

This isn’t the first time that volunteers for a Zooniverse project have discovered something new to astronomy. Hanny’s Voorwerp, the first known quasar ionization echo, was discovered by a Dutch schoolteacher using Galaxy Zoo, and an entirely new class of galaxies was discovered by volunteers working on the same project! (They called them “green peas”, after their appearance on the images.) These are only two examples of the many discoveries that have been made by ordinary people using Zooniverse, from exoplanets, to gravitational lenses, to exotic stars, and more!

To volunteer, all you have to do is visit zooniverse.org, pick any of the 20 astronomy-related projects or 68 projects from other fields, and click on it. A short tutorial will be shown, and then you’ll be set free to help forward the world’s scientific knowledge. Good luck!

 


Clear Skies!
Lauren Herrington


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