Earth-sized planets that host life should be far easier to find around parent stars that are white dwarfs, the ultimate incarnations of stars like the sun, a new study shows.
White dwarfs are the dense stellar cores that remain after a sun-like star runs out of fuel and goes through its expanding, red giant phase, a process that will consume its inner planets. In our solar system, for example, Mercury, Venus and possibly Earth will be destroyed when the sun evolves into a red giant some 4.5 billion years from now.
But the system won't necessarily be doomed.
Outer planets may migrate inward, closer to the star, and new worlds may form. Not all will be in stable orbits, but an Earth-sized world located about 1 million miles away from a host white dwarf star would have a temperature roughly the same as Earth's. At that distance, the planet could have liquid water on its surface, a condition believed to be necessary for life.
Scientists are developing techniques to scan the atmospheres of planets beyond the solar system for oxygen and other chemical signs of life. It's a laborious and time-consuming process to separating out light passing through a planet's atmosphere from all the background starlight.