Dwarf star's atmosphere holds the ingredients for life

It hints that the conditions for life could be more common than you think.

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Jon Fingas
February 13th, 2017
University of Warwick
University of Warwick

One of the biggest questions in the search for life in the universe is a simple one: how common are the ingredients needed to make life-giving planets? They might be more widespread than you think. Astronomers have discovered that a white dwarf star in the Boötes constellation, WD 1425+540, has an atmosphere chock full of the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen needed for life as we know it. The researchers believe that the star picked up these elements after ripping up a small rock-and-water planet when it veered too close. The finding suggests that rocky planets like Earth don't need to be born with life-giving material -- even a "dry" example orbiting close to its star might pick up those substances through one of these stellar impacts.

Importantly, that victim planet likely resembled one of the objects in the Kuiper belt, the cloud of water-rich comets and small planets at the outer edge of our own Solar System. That supports beliefs that there are Kuiper belt-like environments in other star systems, and that happy accidents like WD 1425+540's might not be all that rare. While that's far from a guarantee of life, it raises hope that humanity will find life elsewhere.

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