A water heavy asteroid, the first of its kind outside our solar system, has been discovered around a dying star 150 light years away.
One hundred and fifty light years away, astronomers have discovered the shattered remains of an asteroid containing massive amounts of water. The asteroid is orbiting a dying star, a white dwarf, known as GD61. While at the end of its life today, astronomers believe that the asteroid indicates GD61 may at one point have hosted Earth-like planets capable of supporting life.
This discovery marks the first time both water and a rocky surface have been discovered together beyond our solar system. The asteroid contains about 26% water, comparable to Ceres, the largest asteroid in our asteroid belt. Earth is actually quite dry, with only 0.02% of its mass being attributed to surface water. It has therefore been theorized that our water arrived after our planet was already fully formed; asteroids such as the newly discovered one may have crashed into Earth and provided us with our oceans. In other words, asteroids may be “water delivery systems” of sorts.
Since all planets form as the result of an accumulation of smaller bodies, asteroids included, making them the building blocks of solar systems: “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” Jay Farihi, from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.
Planets may receive their water from asteroids smashing into them.
Astronomers from the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick have described the solar system as a “look into our future”. In six billion years or so, alien astronomers who gaze up at our burnt out star and planetary remains, may see something very similar and draw the conclusion that there once was a planet there capable of supporting life. Though, hopefully, by then we’ll have figured out a way to tow Earth out of there before it burns up.