Pulsars have extreme conditions. These neutron stars, which span between 10 and 30 kilometers in diameters, accrete matter, have enormous magnetic fields, and regularly burst out deadly gamma rays and X-rays.
Habitable Planets Around Pulsars
Researchers of a new study published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, however, have suggested that despite the hostile conditions, there is a theoretical possibility that habitable planets may still thrive around pulsars.
Study researchers Alessandro Patruno and Mihkel Kama, both from Leiden University, calculated the habitable zones near neutrons stars and now suggest that there could still be life in the vicinity of these stars.
Astronomers tend to consider worlds as potentially habitable if these lie in a zone where liquid water could exist on its surface. Researchers of the new study found habitable zones may possibly exist around neutron stars.
"Such a habitable zone can be as wide as the one that exists around normal stars," Kama said.
Thick Atmosphere Needed To Protect Life
Researchers said that habitable planets orbiting pulsars should have an atmosphere a million time thicker than that of our home world to protect any life on the surface from pulsar radiation. This would make the conditions on these pulsar planets comparable to those found in the deep seas of the Earth.
Kama said that the atmospheric pressure on the surface of these worlds resembles or is even higher compared to the pressure in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known-point on planet Earth's surface.
The researchers noted that because life exists in the depths of oceans, it is possible that some form of life can exist in these warm and high-pressure environments.
Pulsar PSR B1257+12
The researchers studied pulsar PSR B1257+12, which lies about 2,300 light-years away using the Chandra Space Telescope. The pulsar has three planets orbiting around it, two of which are super-Earths that are four to five times more massive than our home planet.
The researchers found that the planets orbit at a proximity from the pulsar that may allow them to warm up. Calculations revealed that the temperatures of the planets could be suitable for liquid water to exist on the surface albeit it isn't yet clear if the two super-Earths have the right and extremely dense atmosphere needed to protect life.
"Depending on as-yet poorly constrained aspects of the pulsar wind, both Super-Earths around B1257+12 could lie within its habitable zone," the researchers wrote in their study.