We may finally not be alone in the universe as life could exist on a planet near a dead star in an 'exciting' discovery, boffins say.
A ring of debris studded with moon-sized structures has been observed orbiting close to a white dwarf star, known as WD1054-226 in the Milky Way.
Experts in Britain say the dwarf star has burnt all the hydrogen it used as nuclear fuel, writes The Times.
It hints at nearby planet in the area known as the habitable zone could exist, a study led by scientists at University College London (UCL) discovered.
They believe the area could be habitable for at least two billion years, including one billion into the future, as where water exists – so could life.
Researchers measured light from the white dwarf star using data from telescopes and published their findings in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
They said the star was observed 117 light-years away (three billion times greater than the distance from the Earth to the Moon).
Changes in the light over 18 nights were recorded using an ultra-high-speed camera on a telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.
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Dips in light corresponding to 65 evenly spaced clouds of debris orbiting the star every 25 hours were found, with boffins concluding the dimming every 23 minutes suggested it was down to a nearby planet.
However, they've cautioned more information is needed to confirm the presence of a planet.
The Royal Astronomical Society said: “The planet is thought to be similar in size to that of the terrestrial planets in our solar system. The approximate distance between the planet and WD1054–226 is around 1.7% of the Earth-Sun distance (roughly 2.5 million km).
“They found that the light from WD1054–226 was always somewhat obscured by enormous clouds of orbiting material passing in front of it, suggesting a ring of planetary debris orbiting the star.
“The habitable zone is the area where the temperature would theoretically allow liquid water to exist on the surface of a planet. Compared to a star like the Sun, the habitable zone of a white dwarf will be smaller and closer to the star as white dwarfs give off less light and heat.”
Jay Farihi, the lead author and a professor of astrophysics at UCL, said: “This is the first time astronomers have detected any kind of planetary body in the habitable zone of a white dwarf.”
He added that it was “an exciting possibility that these bodies are kept in such an evenly-spaced orbital pattern because of the gravitational influence of a nearby major planet. The possibility of a major planet in the habitable zone is exciting and also unexpected; we were not looking for this.
“Since our Sun will become a white dwarf in a few billion years, our study provides a glimpse into the future of our own solar system.”
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