Astronomers have been given a glimpse of what Earth will look like 6 billion years from now, and it isn’t pretty.
While watching white dwarf GD 61, 150 light years away from Earth, they found the shredded remains of what could only be a water-rich massive asteroid or small planet.
It was pulled into and ripped apart by GD 61’s gravitational field when the star collapsed.
Astronomers have observed rocky elements such as magnesium, silicon and iron amongst the debris, as well as the all-important oxygen, which suggests a very large amount of water was present.
“The finding of water in a large asteroid means the building blocks of habitable planets existed – and maybe still exist – in the GD 61 system, and likely also around substantial number of similar parent stars,” Dr Jay Farihi, from the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University, said.
“These water-rich building blocks, and the terrestrial planets they build, may in fact be common; a system cannot create things as big as asteroids and avoid building planets, and GD 61 had the ingredients to deliver lots of water to their surfaces.
“Our results demonstrate that there was definitely potential for habitable planets in this exoplanetary system.”
Earth’s own Sun is scheduled to collapse in 6 billion years’ time.
The research appears in the latest issue of the journal Science.