Two Key Ingredients for Habitable Planets Found for 1st Time Beyond Our Solar System
Astronomers have found the shattered remains of an asteroid that contained huge amounts of water orbiting an exhausted star, or white dwarf (image above). This suggests that the star GD 61 and its planetary system — located about 150 light years away and at the end of its life — had the potential to contain Earth-like exoplanets, they say. This marks the first time that both water and a rocky surface — two “key ingredients” for habitable planets — have been found together beyond our solar system.
The new discovery shows that the same water ‘delivery system’ could have occurred in this distant, dying star’s solar system — as latest evidence points to it containing a similar type of water-rich asteroid that would have first brought water to Earth.
"These water-rich building blocks, and the terrestrial planets they build, may in fact be common — a system cannot create things as big as asteroids and avoid building planets, and GD 61 had the ingredients to deliver lots of water to their surfaces," Farihi said. "Our results demonstrate that there was definitely potential for habitable planets in this exoplanetary system."
The researchers say that the water detected most likely came from a minor planet, at least 90 km in diameter but probably much larger, that once orbited the GD 61 star before it became a white dwarf around 200 million years ago.
1 year ago
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