White Dwarfs May Have Habitable Planets Near Them–Mark Paquette

Mar 2011;
In an internet paper published on Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Eric Agol, a University of Washington associate professor of astronomy, states that it could be much easier to find habitable (in terms of life as we know it) planets near white dwarfs as compared to other places in the universe.
Agol stated, “If a planet is close enough to the (white dwarf) star, it could have a stable temperature long enough to have liquid water at the surface — if it has water at all — and that’s a big factor for habitability.”
We are obviously interested in life on other planets in the universe. I was overwhelmed by the amount of responses received on the AccuWeather Astronomy facebook fanpage when I asked about the possibility of alien life and personal experiences with UFO’s and/or aliens. I mentioned above in parentheses the phrase “life as we know it.” I write this because we generally assume that other life forms in the universe, if they are out there, have the same requirements as we do (ie. water, oxygen, “normal” temperatures) and are carbon-based life forms, like we are. Who is to say this is true, though?
Studies like these look for planets with similar conditions to Earth because we assume that non-earthly life forms need them. Who is to say that is correct? Who knows the “right” type of planet we should be looking for? I guess we start with planets like our own, and we go from there. We would have no clue where to look for life if we do not look for planets with similar conditions to Earth.
I guess my point is, fine, look for planets like ours out there in the universe. However, do not limit it just to those few planets! How do we know what is out there and what type of planet may be right for them? Who is to say that life on other planets is just like life on Earth? I, for one, think that life on other planets may be much different than life on our planet.

A planet would have to move very close to the white dwarf to be habitable simply because, assuming that the alien life forms need similar temperatures to the Earth, of the weak output of energy from a white dwarf. Planets would have to be perhaps 500,000 to 2 million miles from the white dwarf star. That is less than 1 percent of the distance from Earth to the sun (93 million miles) and quite a bit closer than Mercury is to the sun.
Mr. Agol added, “From the planet, the star would appear slightly larger than our Sun, because it is so close, and slightly more orange, but it would look very, very similar to our Sun.”
A survey of the 20,000 white dwarfs closest to Earth is being proposed by Mr. Agol. Even though it would have a huge expense in terms of effort and people-hours, it may be worthwhile.
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Mark Paquette – accuweather.com

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