In Christopher Nolan’s Hollywood thriller ‘Interstellar,’ the Earth is left in grave danger after dying crops and deadly dust storms sweep across the planet, leading a team of brave astronauts to venture into a wormhole near Saturn, emerging light-years away on Miller’s planet – an ocean world orbiting a supermassive black hole known as Gargantua. But according to recent research, this idea might not be as far-fetched as it first appeared. Much of the recent search for extraterrestrial life has focused on hunting down planets orbiting in the so-called Goldilocks zone – an area surrounding a star that has just the right conditions for life to emerge.
Now, a breakthrough suggests that such Goldilocks zones could also exist near supermassive black holes, paving the way for the potential discovery of Earth 2.0 – a planet just like ours, orbiting a safe, warm distance from a Sun-like star.
Featured in the BBC’s Science Focus Magazine this month, Keiichi Wada, from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, unveiled his stunning theory.
He said: “The two fields [planet formation and black holes] are so different, usually there is no interaction between them.”
Researchers set out to change that by combining their knowledge to model the formation of planets around supermassive black holes.
Their theory, published last November, shows that at far enough distances from the black hole – at least 10 light-years away – the gravitational environment is stable enough for planets to form in just the same way as they do around stars like our Sun.
Professor Wada added: “This is the very first study that claims a possibility of direct formation of planet-like objects around supermassive black holes.
“We expect more than 10,000 planets around a supermassive black hole because the total amount of dust is enormous.”
On Earth, life is dependent on the light and warmth from the Sun to survive.
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Dr Schnittman said: “All the black holes we know have accretion discs and they are incredibly bright.
“It would look very similar to our Solar System.”
But, the centre of galaxies where supermassive black holes usually reside are so jam-packed with stars that Dr Schnittman said the night sky would be 100,000 times brighter than ours.
There is also a problem with planets being warmed by an accretion disc.
Dr Schnittman explained: “They give off a lot more ultraviolet and X-ray radiation than the Sun.
“That kind of radiation could potentially sterilise an otherwise habitable planet.
“You’d need a cloudy atmosphere to block it,” but that’s not impossible, and according to the expert, “thick, hazy atmospheres seem to be quite common.”
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