W. M. Keck Observatory press release…
Astronomers have found the shattered remains of an asteroid that contained huge amounts of water orbiting an exhausted star, or white dwarf. 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.
The new research findings used data collected from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, both of W. M. Keck Observatory’s Keck I and Keck II telescopes, as well NASA’s FUSE telescope, and are reported today in the journal Science.
Artist impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61. Credit: Copyright Mark A. Garlick, space-art.co.uk, University of Warwick and University of Cambridge.
This is the first time both water and a rocky surface – two key ingredients for habitable planets – have been found together beyond our solar system.
Earth is essentially a “dry” planet, with only 0.02% of its mass as surface water, meaning oceans came long after it had formed; most likely when water-rich asteroids in the solar system crashed into our planet.
The asteroid analyzed is composed of 26% water mass, very similar to Ceres, the largest asteroid in the main belt of our solar system. Both are vastly more water-rich compared with Earth.
The new discovery shows 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.
Astronomers at the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick say this is the first “reliable evidence” for water-rich, rocky planetary material in any extrasolar planetary system.
Continue reading Watery Asteroid Discovered in Dying Star Points to Habitable Exoplanets…