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ScienceDaily (Apr. 14, 2010) — An international team of astronomers have discovered compelling evidence that rocky planets are commonplace in our Galaxy.
Leicester University scientist and lead researcher Dr Jay Farihi surveyed white dwarfs, the compact remnants of stars that were once like our Sun, and found that many show signs of contamination by heavier elements and possibly even water, improving the prospects for extraterrestrial life.
Excitingly, it appears a significant fraction of these stars are polluted with material that contained water, with important implications for the frequency of habitable planets around other stars.
If internal water is present in a substantial fraction of asteroids around other stars, like those that contaminated the white dwarfs, it is conceivable that at least simple life may be common throughout the Galaxy. Dr Farihi comments: "In our own Solar System with at least one watery, habitable planet, the asteroid belt -- the leftover building blocks of the terrestrial planets -- is several percent water by mass.
From our study of white dwarfs, it appears there are basic similarities found among asteroid-like objects around other stars; hence it is likely a fraction of these white dwarfs once harbored watery planets, and possibly life."