In the search for habitable planets, astronomers usually expect to find life on Earth-like objects. The conditions on our world are regarded as the most suitable for life, so finding it somewhere else is extremely unlikely. This is why they struck down pulsars from the list, as they are way too turbulent to create habitable zones. However, a recent study revealed this type of neutron stars might create such zones in certain conditions.
Researchers thought pulsars didn’t have a habitable zone
Each star has a habitable zone. This means that, at a certain distance from the star, there is an area where temperature is perfect to guarantee the existence of liquid water. However, the position of this habitable zone differs from the type of the star. If it is too big and hot, life would be possible somewhere further away from its core, while red dwarf stars have this zone somewhere closer.
Pulsars were regarded as unsuitable to create any kind of habitable zone. They emit neither heat nor light, and issue some X-ray pulses which are a huge threat for life. Astronomers spotted some planets orbiting this kind of stars, but the conditions were incredibly harsh, so they thought life couldn’t exist there.
Under special conditions, pulsars can hold life
However, they wanted to check this hypothesis, so they developed a study where they assessed where the habitable zone of pulsars should lie. To their surprise, they discovered there actually is such an area, which can be as big as the distance between our planet and the Sun. However, there are some conditions.
For life to be present on such a planet, it needs to have a mass 10 times bigger than Earth’s mass. Also, its atmosphere must be a lot thicker, to protect the surface from X-rays. This is the only condition to make the planet warm enough for life. They reached this conclusion after looking at the three exoplanets which orbited the pulsar PSR B1257+12. Two of these were capable of hosting life in the aforementioned conditions.