February 1, 2023

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An exoplanet with nuclear fusion inside it. The Gaia spacecraft made a historic observation

And, perhaps, it would be more correct not to say “too”, but above all. After all, this reaction, also called a thermonuclear reaction, is the source of much-needed energy for the sun — and therefore us. However, stars are not the only objects in the universe capable of performing mergers. Others turned out to be exoplanets.

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One of them was identified, for the first time in history, by the Gaia probe operating on the services of the European Space Agency. The object in question has been named HD 206893, and appears to be able to burn deuterium to generate energy in a fusion reaction.

Sasha Hinckley from the University of Exeter led the case team. It was she and her colleagues who found an exoplanet orbiting 484 million kilometers from the star HD 206893. The latter is about 130 light-years from Earth and about 30 percent more massive than the Sun. To be precise: the distance between Earth and our star is about 150 million km. Details of the accomplishments of Hinkley and her collaborators are now available as first print in the site’s database arXiv.

Exoplanet HD 206893 c orbits 484 million km from its star

Interestingly, the decision to monitor HD 206893 was not made by accident. Astronomers noticed it because it was surrounded by a disk of dust and rock. These types of systems create opportunities for potential exoplanets. Of course, the already mentioned Gaia probe helps detect them. Its instruments allow not only determining the positions of stars, but also collecting information about their atmospheres.

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In addition to the probe itself, the VLT (Very Large Telescope) also participated in the search. This remarkable duo led to the identification of HD 206893 c, an exoplanet about 13 times the mass of Jupiter. But more important than that is another fact: analysis of the light from this object’s atmosphere indicates that a nuclear fusion reaction is taking place inside it. Other observations showed that the exoplanet was getting brighter. This, in turn, indicates that the fusion reaction there uses deuterium, which is an isotope of hydrogen.

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In addition to the fact that scientists have collected valuable information about a distant exoplanet, there is another fact that deserves attention: not only the James Webb Space Telescope is inhabited by man. We can see that equipment like the Gaia probe could be great in the context of searching for exoplanets with unknown properties.