Astronomers have found remains of a water-rich, rocky asteroid orbiting around a white dwarf- GD 61. The latest discovery by researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and colleagues shows that distant exoplanets could support life.
The star GD 61 and its planetary system are located about 150 light years from earth and astronomers say that the celestial system had the potential to support life, just like earth.
During the formation of our solar system, many water-rich asteroids collided with earth and delivered water, creating vast oceans. This is the first time that researchers have found a similar water-delivery system outside the solar system.
"The finding of water in a large asteroid means the building blocks of habitable planets existed - and maybe still exist - in the GD 61 system, and likely also around substantial number of similar parent stars," said lead author Jay Farihi, from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy.
Farihi and colleagues used data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study the star system. Their findings are published in the journal Science.
The asteroid that they analyzed is quite similar to Ceres, the largest asteroid in our solar system, and is composed of about 26 percent water mass. Both Ceres and the new asteroid are more water-rich than earth. Ceres was once considered a planet due to its size.
Astronomers also found that the atmosphere of GD61 is contaminated by magnesium, silicon, iron and oxygen, meaning that the dying star had sucked-in and tore apart the asteroid. A billion years from now, our sun will pull-in planets and asteroids and devour them, just like the GD 61.
According to Farihi and team, the discovery, in a way, describes our future. About six billion years from now, alien astronomers might study our planetary system and conclude that earth could support life.
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