Possible for planets orbiting pulsars to be habitable, scientists say
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Dec 22, 2017
New calculations suggest a pulsar could host habitable planets. It's theoretically possible, scientists say.
Researchers published their theoretical work this week in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. It's the first time scientists have calculated the size of a neutron star's habitable zone.
The latest calculations suggest a pulsar's habitable zone -- the ring in which water could exist in liquid form -- could stretch as wide as the distance between Earth and the sun.
Pulsars are small neutron stars that aggressively accrete matter. They periodically send explosive pulses of X-rays and high-energy particles out into space -- hence the name.
The extreme conditions surrounding a pulsar would appear to spell doom for the possibility of life, but the latest models suggest certain types of planets with the right kind of atmosphere could prove habitable.
The planet would have to be a super-Earth, scientists found, with a mass 1 to 10 times greater than Earth's. Its atmosphere would also need to be at least a million times as thick as Earth's. Only an extremely thick atmosphere, capable of converting the pulsar's radiation into thermal energy, would be able to protect the planet from high-energy particles.
Scientists based their calculations on observations of PSR B1257+12, a pulsar found 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Virgo. Astronomers discovered three planets around the star using the Chandra Space Telescope. Two of the planets are super-Earths with a mass four to five times the mass of Earth.
"According to our calculations, the temperature of the planets might be suitable for the presence of liquid water on their surface," Alessandro Patruno, a scientist at the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy, said in a news release. "Though we don't know yet if the two super-Earths have the right, extremely dense atmosphere."
To improve the accuracy of their calculations, scientists need to study more pulsars and pulsar planets.
Of the roughly 1 billion neutron stars in the Milky Way, approximately 200,000 are pulsars. Scientists have observed 3,000 of them, and their observations have revealed the presence of only 5 pulsar planets.
New Haven CT (SPX) Dec 20, 2017
Yale astronomers have taken a fresh look at the nearby Alpha Centauri star system and found new ways to narrow the search for habitable planets there. According to a study led by Professor Debra Fischer and graduate student Lily Zhao, there may be small, Earth-like planets in Alpha Centauri that have been overlooked. Meanwhile, the study ruled out the existence of a number of larger planet ... read more
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