News / Science & Technology

Water Discovered in Extrasolar, Rocky World

This is an artist's impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61. (NASA, ESA, M.A. Garlick (space-art.co.uk), University of Warwick, and University of Cambridge)
This is an artist's impression of a rocky and water-rich asteroid being torn apart by the strong gravity of the white dwarf star GD 61. (NASA, ESA, M.A. Garlick (space-art.co.uk), University of Warwick, and University of Cambridge)

Related Articles

Astronomers Discover Lone Planet with No Star

Planet has a mass six times that of Jupiter and is only 12 million years old

'Super Earth' Exoplanet May Have Water Atmosphere

Planet, detected by Japanese astronomers, is located 40 light years from Earth in constellation Ophiuchus

Journal: Life on Earth Will End in 1.75 to 3.25 Billion Years

British researchers looked at planets outside our solar system to come up with estimate of how long Earth will be habitable
TEXT SIZE - +
VOA News
Water has been discovered for the first time on a piece of rocky debris 150 light years away from Earth.

The debris, which is orbiting the white dwarf GD 61, is a relic of a planetary system that survived the burnout of its parent star. Scientists think the system had the potential to contain Earth-like exoplanets.

"These water-rich building blocks, and the terrestrial planets they assemble, 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," according to Jay Farihi of the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. "Our results demonstrate that there was definitely potential for habitable planets in this exoplanetary system. The system almost certainly had [and possibly still has] planets, and it had the ingredients to deliver lots of water to their surfaces."

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, Farihi’s team was able to do a chemical analysis of the debris around GD 61.

"The only feasible way to see what a distant planet is made of is to take it apart, and nature does this for us using the strong gravitational tidal forces of white dwarf stars," said Farihi. "This technique allows us to look at the chemistry that builds rocky planets, and is a completely independent method from other types of exoplanet observations."

The white dwarf GD 61 is a relic of a star that once burned hotter and brighter than our Sun. The star exhausted its fuel in just 1.5 billion years. (Our Sun will last roughly ten times as long.)

NASA's Far Ultraviolet Space Explorer (FUSE) first found an abundance of oxygen in the dwarf's atmosphere in 2008. The only way to obtain a more precise measurement of the amount of oxygen in the debris around GD 61 requires observations in the ultraviolet, which can only be carried out above Earth's atmosphere.

Combining their results with a previous study that used the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the team also detected magnesium, silicon, and iron, which, together with oxygen, are the main components of rocks. By counting the number of these elements relative to oxygen the researchers were able to predict how much oxygen should be in the atmosphere of the white dwarf. They found significantly more oxygen than should have been carried by rocky minerals alone.

"The oxygen excess can be carried by either water or carbon mono- or dioxide. In this star there is virtually no carbon, indicating there must have been substantial water," said Boris Gänsicke of the University of Warwick, in Coventry, United Kingdom. He added that the small amount of carbon seen in the white dwarf rules out comets as the source of water. Comets are rich in both water and carbon compounds.

Earth is essentially a "dry" planet, with only 0.02 percent of its mass as surface water. So oceans came long after it had formed, most likely when water-rich asteroids in the solar system crashed into our planet.

The new discovery shows that the same water "delivery system" could have occurred in this distant, dying star's solar system — as this latest evidence points to it containing a similar type of water-rich asteroid that would have first brought water to Earth.

Six billion years from now an alien astronomer measuring similar abundances in the atmosphere of our burned-out Sun may reach the same conclusion that terrestrial planets once circled our parent star. Though  GD 61  was different from our Sun, nevertheless, "it's a look into our future," said Gänsicke.

The new research findings are reported in the journal Science.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Emmanuel I. Ebube from: Asaba, Nigeria
October 16, 2013 2:23 AM
The above article on extrasolar water goes to confirm not only my recent comment on this forum but also what I have written in my books on the the origin of our planet and its lifeforms. I have maintained that the impact of a Mars-sized object from interstellar space, some half a billion years ago, brought with water and organic life-forming matter that was deposited on planet earth on impact. this impact also displaced our planet from its original mathematically predictable orbit into a new orbit. This new orbit, perhaps fortunately, turned out to be favorable to the species of lifeforms that now exist on planet earth. The material that makes existence of living creatures possible came from the far recesses of outer space, as the above article about extrasolar water and G60 suggest. There should also be evidence of extrasolar matter presence on Neptune which suffered similar collision-ejection fate as planet earth..The NASA space craft that just exited the solar system should reveal a lot more fact on this subject. The circumstances surrounding our emergence as the creatures we are is unique and accidental, and the laws of probability should indicate that these conditions could hardly be replicated precisely any where else in the vast universe. The oddity of planet earth is deducible from the failure of earth's orbit to obey the mathematical law that govern the other planetary orbits, except of course Neptune which is also a deviant. More comments to follow

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid