Nearby white dwarf star contains ingredients for life

Pictured is one of the hottest white dwarf stars known nestled in the NCG 2440 nebula. Although the bright dot in the centre of the picture is not the the white dwarf mentioned in the article below, it serves as a good representation of what a white dwarf looks like.
Image credit: Credit: H. Bond (STScI), R. Ciardullo (PSU), WFPC2, HST, NASA
Date:13 February 2017 Tags:, ,

Scientists have discovered WD 1425+540, a nearby white dwarf star that contains a high level of hydrogen and oxygen – the ingredients for life.

By Sophie Weiner

A new study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters reveals that a team of scientists at UCLA have discovered a new white dwarf star only 200 light years from Earth, in the Boötes constellation. The star, named WD 1425+540, contains a high level of hydrogen and oxygen (the ingredients of water) and an atmosphere rich in nitrogen and carbon. The findings indicate that the planetary system that may surround the star contains the ingredients necessary for life.

The fact that we can find a solar system that shares so much with ours so close to home is a good indication for finding life elsewhere in the universe. “The findings indicate that some of life’s important preconditions are common in the universe,” one of the study’s authors, Benjamin Zuckerman, said in a statement.

The researchers also detected that there was a planet in WD 1425+540’s solar system with an altered orbit, possibly due to the gravitational pull of another larger planet. This put the planet too close to the star, which ripped it into pieces, leaving the planet’s gas and dust remnants to orbit the star and eventually collapse into it, leaving the ingredients for life. Researchers think the planet was approximately 70% rock and 30% ice and water. This series of events suggests that planets like Earth could be fertilized with life’s ingredients thanks to contact with other celestial bodies.

“Now we’re seeing in a planetary system outside our solar system that there are minor planets where water, nitrogen and carbon are present in abundance, as in our solar system’s Kuiper belt,” the study’s lead author, Siyi Xu says. “If Earth obtained its water, nitrogen and carbon from the impact of such objects, then rocky planets in other planetary systems could also obtain their water, nitrogen and carbon this way.”



This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.

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