Scientists discover potential for life outside our solar system

As Nasa’s rover Curiosity seeks to answer the question ‘Is there life on Mars?’, scientists elsewhere have found the first evidence of a planetary body outside our solar system that was potentially capable of having once sustained life

The shattered remains of a planetary body, or asteroid, are currently orbiting a white dwarf star called GD 61 and are about 170 light years away from Earth, according to astronomers at the Universities of Warwick and Cambridge. Both rocks and water have been detected on the asteroid; two ‘ingredients’ considered vital for the origin of life.

Researchers believe the asteroid comprises remnants from a small watery planet that was knocked out of its original orbit and pulled so close to its sun that it was broken up in the process.

Professor Boris Gänsicke, from the department of physics at the University of Warwick, said: “At this stage in its existence, all that remains of this rocky body is simply dust and debris that has been pulled into the orbit of its dying parent star.

“However, this planetary graveyard swirling around the embers of its parent star is a rich source of information about its former life.”

Jay Farihi from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy said: “Our results demonstrate that there was definitely potential for habitable planets in this exoplanetary system.”