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In possible breakthrough, scientists say planetary bodies seen in habitable zone of white dwarf

Finding is “exciting and also unexpected,” researcher says.

Published: March 12, 2022 5:01pm

Updated: March 12, 2022 5:47pm

Astronomers this week announced the discovery of several “planetary bodies” possibly orbiting a white dwarf star’s habitable zone, suggesting the presence of a genuine planet possibly located in the correct region for supporting life.

The “habitable zone” of a star is a critical component of galactic research; planets located in this zone are close enough to receive warmth from the star’s energy but far enough away that it can retain liquid water on its surface, liquid water being though to be a necessary component for life in the universe. 

Astronomers stay that planets in habitable zones present the highest likelihood for discovering life elsewhere within the universe. In a press release from the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers said they had discovered unique evidence of such a find: A “ring of planetary debris studded with moon-sized structures” orbiting the habitable zone of a white dwarf star nearly 120 light-years away. 

The “moon-sized structures” orbiting the white dwarf star may be “kept in such an evenly-spaced orbital pattern because of the gravitational influence of a nearby major planet,” lead study author Jay Farihi said in the press release. 

“Without this influence, friction and collisions would cause the structures to disperse, losing the precise regularity that is observed,” he said. 

“The possibility of a major planet in the habitable zone is exciting and also unexpected; we were not looking for this,” Farihi said, adding that “it is important to keep in mind that more evidence is necessary to confirm the presence of a planet.”

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