The Building Blocks of the Earth are Pretty Normal

The Building Blocks of the Earth are Pretty Normal

The probability of finding Earth-like planets in the Milky Way got a massive boost.

Scientists are quite keen, these days, to find signs of life in other parts of the universe. Several missions have been sent to our neighboring planet, Mars, in this regard to gather maximum information about the red planet of our solar system. Similarly, researchers are also interested in exploring the interstellar space in quest of finding an alternative habitat for humanity. Recently, 18 different planetary systems were observed some of which were at a distance of 456 light years from the Earth. The scientists involved in the research compared the elementary proportions of these systems with ours and found a significant amount of similarity between these compositions. Dr. Siyi Xu of the Gemini Observatory described their findings at the Goldschmidt Conference in the following words:

Most of the building blocks we have looked at in other planetary systems have a composition broadly similar to that of the Earth.”

The planets orbiting other stars were found, for the first time, in 1992. Since then, researchers from different parts of the world have tried to understand the formation of these stars and the corresponding orbiting planets to see if they have anything similar to our world or not. This is one of the largest examinations that have ever been conducted for measuring the general composition of materials in other planetary systems. It is expected that it will prove extremely useful for the scientists to figure out general conclusions about the formation of those systems. In addition to that, it might help them to find Earth-like bodies in other parts of the universe. Siyi Xu said,

It is difficult to examine these remote bodies directly. Because of the huge distances involved, their nearby star tends to drown out any electromagnetic signal, such as light or radio waves. So we needed to look at other methods.”

The researching team used the Hubble Space Telescope of NASA and the Keck Telescope (the largest optical and infrared telescope of the world) for taking all the measurements for their study. The fact that the scientists had to look for another option led them towards the idea of analyzing the effect of the planetary building blocks on the signals from the white dwarf stars. The term ‘White Dwarf Stars’ refers to those stars who have become extremely dense and small after burning most of their Hydrogen and Helium. Dr. Xu mentioned that these stars give quite a clean and clear spectroscopic signal due to their atmospheric composition. In addition to that, he added that such a dwarf star pulls material from all the orbiting bodies, like planets, comets, and asteroid, once it cools down. He also referred to the resulting changes by saying,

As this material approaches the star, it changes how we see the star. This change is measurable because it influences the star’s spectroscopic signal, and allows us to identify the type and even the quantity of material surrounding the white dwarf. These measurements can be extremely sensitive, allowing bodies as small as an asteroid to be detected.

The researchers focused primarily on those white dwarfs who had dust disks around it. These disks are formed when the star pulls material from the orbiting heavenly bodies. In some ways, they resemble the rings of Saturn. The scientists found that Magnesium, Calcium, and Silicon were present in most of these stars while some of them had a few more complementary elements. Dr. Xu made the following revelations about their findings. He said,

We may also have found water in one of the systems, but we have not yet quantified it: it’s likely that there will be a lot of water in some of these worlds. For example, we’ve previously identified one-star system, 170 light-years away in the constellation Boötes, which was rich in carbon, nitrogen, and water, giving a composition similar to that of Halley’s Comet. In general, though, their composition looks very similar to bulk Earth. This would mean that the chemical elements, the building blocks of earth are common in other planetary systems. And that means that we can probably expect to find Earth-like planets elsewhere in our Galaxy.”

He also mentioned the recent data release of the Gaia Spacecraft which has characterized 1.7 billion stars now. Despite all that, Dr. Xu acknowledged that their research is far from complete and they need more time more arriving at any conclusion.

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