A recent study suggests that habitable planets may potentially be orbiting around deadly pulsars.
Pulsars are known for emitting deadly gamma rays and X-rays, but it turns out that there could actually be planets orbiting around them that are hospitable to life.
It’s important to note, however, that while these planets are habitable, they likely wouldn’t be able to support humans. A study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics suggests that the environment would be akin to the bottom of the sea on Earth — capable of supporting life, but not for many organisms and especially not for humans.
A pulsar is formed when a large star explodes in a supernova at the end of its life. Pulsars are a dense core of matter with a tiny cube-sized piece having a mass of over 100 million tons. These balls of mass rotate at thousands of revolutions per second and they’re constantly emitting gamma rays, x-rays, and energetic particles.
Even though pulsars are incredibly dangerous, there have been discoveries of planets in the past inside these inhospitable conditions. The first exoplanets ever discovered were actually rotating around the pulsar B1257+12 around 2300 light-years away from Earth.
Despite these discoveries, it hasn’t been clear that life could potentially exist around a pulsar until now. Study co-author Alessandro Patruno, an astrophysicist from Leiden University in the Netherlands, elaborated on the findings in an interview with Space.com.
“Despite emitting deadly particles and radiation, pulsars might have a habitable zone…Such a habitable zone can be as wide as the one that exists around normal stars.”
Because life can exist pretty much wherever there is water, and these habitable zones could potentially contain water, it makes sense that life could survive on a planet around a pulsar despite the dangerous conditions.
The Potential For Alien Life
In order to obtain this new information, scientists used the Chandra Space Observatory to look at X-rays from the pulsar B1257+12. The calculations seem to show that the two super-Earths surrounding the Pulsar could potentially be warm enough to have liquid water on their surfaces.
However, the potential for life comes with a caveat. Patruno mentioned that an atmosphere a million times thicker than that on Earth would be needed to protect inhabitants from the dangerous radiation constantly emitted from the pulsar. The odds of this happening aren’t very high, but if it were to happen the conditions would be roughly similar to that in Earth’s deep seas.
“The atmospheric pressure you find on the surface of these planets is comparable to or even higher than the pressure you have in the Mariana Trench…However, since we know that life exists in the depths of our ocean, some form of life might certainly exist in these high pressure and warm environments.”
While the scientists on the team started the research expecting to find that the planets would not support any sort of life, they were pleasantly surprised with their findings.
“We quickly realized that for super-Earths [life] is a very solid possibility. Add on top of that the fact that the only multi-planetary pulsar system known has two super-Earths and our excitement skyrocketed.”
More research is required to learn if there is in fact life on these planets, but the possibility that it’s possible is new information that reinforces the idea that living organisms can survive even in the harshest of conditions.