First ever discovery of water and rocky surface together outside our Solar System

Artist's impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61 (Credit: Mark A. Garlick, space-art.co.uk, University of Warwick and University of Cambridge)

Artist’s impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61 (Credit: Mark A. Garlick, space-art.co.uk, University of Warwick and University of Cambridge)

Main Point:

Scientists have found an asteroid that has a significant amount of water and is orbiting around a dying star confirming the potential of habitable planets in the universe.

Published in:

Science

Study Further:

Astronomers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to find this water rich asteroid in the space outside our solar system.

Water containing asteroid is present around the star GD 61 and is present about 150 light years away from us. According to researchers, this is the first time that the two “key ingredients”, i.e. water and rocky surface are found together outside our solar system. Rocky planets are formed from the accumulation of asteroids, i.e. “building blocks”.

Researchers are of the opinion that most likely water-rich asteroids bring water to our planet making a huge amount of surface water and the discovery of this asteroid has given the firm support to this hypothesis.

The newly discovered asteroid has 26% of water mass, almost same as that of Ceres, the largest asteroid and the first to be discovered, in 1801, orbiting between Mars and Saturn. Both of the asteroids are more water-rich as compared to our planet.

“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.

“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.

According to researchers, most likely the water came from a minor planet of about 90 km in diameter that was also orbiting the GD 61 star sometime in the history of the universe.

“Our results demonstrate that there was definitely potential for habitable planets in this exoplanetary system,” Farihi said.

References:

Watery asteroid in dying star points to habitable exoplanets – University of Cambridge – (http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/watery-asteroid-in-dying-star-points-to-habitable-exoplanets)

J. Farihi et al. (2013). Evidence for Water in the Rocky Debris of a Disrupted Extrasolar Minor Planet Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1239447