End Times

Look: Planet orbiting a dead star hints at Earth's future

Originally Published: 
W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko

You certainly won’t live long enough to watch the Sun die.

But if humans are around several billion years from now, they’ll have to find a way to survive an inevitable catastrophe.

-/AFP/Getty Images

Our Sun is currently in its main sequence stage of life but will hit its red giant stage in approximately 5 billion years.

That transformation will end in an explosion that will likely fry Earth and other closely orbiting planets in the process.

But more distant bodies like Jupiter and Saturn may be spared during the Sun’s collapse.

W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko


Scientists recently observed a system that looks a lot like our own, only at a different place in its life cycle: its main star is a cold, dead white dwarf.

These findings were published in Nature on October 13.

W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko

And a planet orbiting around the white dwarf is likely to be a gas giant similar in profile to Jupiter, only 40 percent more massive.

The researchers suggest this system is an analog to our own, offering a glimpse into our Solar System’s destructive fate.

NASA via Gipht

W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko

Here’s an animation of the Jupiter-like planet surviving its star’s collapse:


Given its proximity to the Sun, there’s little chance humans living on Earth would survive a similar event in 5 billion years.

But there is one way we could endure: by moving humanity to a further celestial body, away from the Sun.

NASA via Giphy

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

“If humankind wanted to move to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Sun fried the Earth ... we’d still remain in orbit around the Sun, although we would not be able to rely on heat from the Sun as a white dwarf for very long.”

Logistically, it would probably require some form of technology to create new heating systems on a distant body, plus all the other challenges of living off-Earth.

But that’s for the humans living billion of years from now to figure out.

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