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What would life be like on a planet orbiting a pulsar? Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way contains an estimated 1 billion neutron stars, of which about 200,000 are pulsars –neutron stars of only 10 to 30 kilometers in diameter with enormous magnetic fields, that accrete matter and regularly burst out large amounts of X-rays and other energetic particles. So far, 3000 pulsars have been studied and only 5 pulsar planets have been found. In 1992, the first exoplanets ever were discovered around pulsar PSR B1257+12.

In a brilliant display of one-up-manship Harvard’s chief astronomer Avi Loeb suggests that “it is therefore reasonable to assume that planets might also exist around black holes, which, perhaps surprisingly to many people, have a much weaker impact on their environment than pulsars. It’s even possible that life may form on some of these planets, given that organisms on Earth have adapted to extreme conditions, including boiling heat, freezing cold, and acidic, highly salty and even radioactive environments.”

Inhabited planets, says Loeb, could survive near the supermassive black holes that lie at the cores of most galaxies. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, harbors a black hole Sgr A* (Sgr stands for Sagittarius), with an innermost stable circular orbit that’s about the size of the orbit of Mercury.

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Category: Science