Scientists discover water-rich asteroid orbiting dead star GD 61 outside our solar system

In a major discovery, astronomers have discovered a large asteroid containing abundant amounts of water orbiting a white dwarf star, designated GD 61.

The discovery has given strong suggestions to the planetary studies about how planets become habitable and the planets capable of supporting life may once have existed beyond the Earth’s solar system.

This unprecedented discovery is the first in which both water and a rocky surface –which are two “key ingredients” for habitable planets – have been found together outside of our solar system.

The discovery of this water-rich asteroid lends evidence to the theory that Earth’s water resulted from water-rich asteroids crashing into its surface. Moreover, the scientists say the same delivery system could have occurred in this distant, dying star’s solar system.

The researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph to study GD 61 and split its light into constituent colors, in a bid to understand its chemical composition.

They found magnesium, iron, silicon and other heavy elements. Scientists say the chemical composition suggest that the white dwarf had fell onto the star from an orbiting object as such chemicals wouldn’t exist naturally on its surface.

The researchers also found excess of oxygen on the surface. The percentage was 26 percent—an amount, scientists say indicates the asteroid polluting the star’s surface was pretty wet than Earth as our planet has only 0.02 percent water.

The study was published in the October 11 issue of Science.

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