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Professor Astronomy

Looking for planets around white dwarfs

20 Aug 2010, 12:43 UTC
Looking for planets around white dwarfs NASA/JPL
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Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Today is the final day of the 17th bi-annual European White Dwarf Workshop. It has been a great meeting, but I am ready to go home.

Many of the talks yesterday and today have focused on a search for planets around white dwarfs. Since white dwarfs come from stars like the Sun, and since at least 10% of sun-like stars have planets, we would expect that 10% of white dwarfs will have planets. We think the Jupiter and Saturn will certainly continue to orbit the white dwarf sun several billion years from now.

The problem is that it is hard to find planets around white dwarfs. Many different methods have been tried (my own collaborators included) but there are no confirmed planets around white dwarfs yet. Does this mean planets, even those far from a star, cannot survive a red giant? Or do they fly off into space when the star makes a planetary nebula? Or have we just not looked at the right stars? Or perhaps we aren't looking with the right methods yet?

I would guess that the problem is with our methods. Back when astronomers were looking for the first transiting planets ...

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