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Search for Planet Nine, a scientist finds ancient star with a mysterious rings

The star, designated LSPM J0207+3331, is the oldest, coolest white dwarf known to be surrounded by a ring of dusty debris. This illustration shows the ring with two separate components, which scientists believe best explains the system’s infrared signal, and an asteroid interrupted by the white dwarf’s gravity. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger)

The hunt for Planet Nine has so far eluded researchers, but a citizen scientist working on a project to the evasive object has found something just as remarkable – a 3-billion-year-old dwarf star that is dust rings circling.

The German citizen scientist Melina Thévenot made the discovery while working on the NASA-led Backyard Worlds: the Planet 9 project. Known as LSPM J0207+3331 or J0207, the old dwarf star was originally thought to be a cold brown dwarf, Adam Schneider, a scientist at Arizona State University said, but it turned out something more.

“When Melina investigated further, she found that, although the object had a significant infrared brightness; it was not a nearby brown dwarf,” Schneider said in a statement. “The team watched it together, and we decided it was probably a white dwarf with infrared excess.”

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The rings are probably made of warm fabric, composed of near continuous break-up of other “small rocky planetesimals” of a job to the dwarf, ” the statement said. However, due to the age of J0207, and the cold temperature, the rings remain a mystery.

“Oddly enough, the mid-infrared photometry of the disk could not be fully explained by a geometrically thin, optically thick dust disk, as seen for the other dusty white dwarfs, but it requires a second ring of dust near the white dwarf and the Roche-radius,” the study abstract reads.

The study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

White dwarf expert John Debes, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said that all what is the feed of the material in the rings, which is connected to the “billion years.”

“Most of the models scientists have created to explain rings around white dwarfs are only good for about 100 million years, so this star is really a challenge of our assumptions of how planetary systems evolve,” Debes said.

It is also possible that there is more than “a clear ring-like component” as part of the J0207 drive, never before seen with a white dwarf, leading scientists to wonder how it fits in with everything already known about white dwarfs.

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More research is needed, some of which will use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, to determine exactly what the ring consists of.

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