This 1917 Image Has The First Ever Evidence Of Exoplanets - But Nobody Realized It

Posted: Apr 13 2016, 6:00am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 14 2016, 11:13pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


This 1917 Image has the First Ever Evidence of Exoplanets - But Nobody Realized it
The 1917 photographic plate spectrum of van Maanen's star from the Carnegie Observatories' archive. Credit: The Carnegie Institution for Science

Long before the first confirmed discovery of exoplanets in the 1980s, the first ever evidence of a planetary system was caught in 1917.

Science says that exoplanets were first discovered in the 1980s. Since then thousands of exoplanets or planetary bodies that orbit around stars other than the sun have been detected. New research suggests that the first ever evidence of a planetary system beyond our Sun was caught in 1917 long before the first confirmed find of the planetary systems.

The evidence came from a 1917 image on an astronomical glass plate from Carnegie Observatories' collection and it showed a white dwarf known as van Maanen's star, that does not exists anymore. When alive, the star was a bit warmer than our own Sun but rest was almost the same as in the other stars.

When a researcher Jay Farihi from University College London obtained more than century old glass plate from Carnegie archive and looked at the spectrum of the star, he found something extraordinary. Heavy elements such as calcium, magnesium and iron were showing up in the data which is an indication of the presence of objects around the star.

“The unexpected realization that this 1917 plate from our archive contains the earliest recorded evidence of a polluted white dwarf system is just incredible," said John Mulchaey, the director of the obseravtory. "And the fact that it was made by such a prominent astronomer in our history as Walter Adams enhances the excitement.”

The recordings of spectrum or the light emitted from the distant stars is an astronomical technique that is even used today to get an idea about the chemical makeup of the stars. It also tells how the light emitted by a star is affected by various things that it passes through before reaching the Earth. The presence of the heavy elements is a sign of a star system that used to have planets, which may turned into cosmic debris and is continuously falling into the star and creating a system what is known as “polluted white dwarfs.”

“Only within the last 12 years has it become clear to astronomers that van Maanen's star and other white dwarfs with heavy elements in their spectra represent a type of planetary system featuring vast rings of rocky planetary remnants that deposit debris into stellar atmosphere. These recently discovered systems are called "polluted white dwarfs,” Carnegie Science press release said.

“They were a surprise to astronomers, because white dwarfs are stars like our own Sun at the end of their lifetimes, so it was not at all expected that they would have leftover planetary material around them at that stage.”


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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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