Larry Niven wrote a novel called The Integral Trees, which was followed by a sequel The Smoke Ring. This is Wikipedia's synopsis of the setting:

The story occurs around the fictional neutron star Levoy's Star (abbreviated "Voy"). The gas giant Goldblatt's World (abbreviated "Gold") orbits this star just outside its Roche limit and therefore its gravity is insufficient to keep its atmosphere, which is pulled loose into an independent orbit around Voy and forms a ring that is known as a gas torus. The gas torus is huge—one million kilometers thick—but most of it is too thin to be habitable. The central part of the Gas Torus, where the air is thicker, is known as the Smoke Ring. The Smoke Ring supports a wide variety of life.

Two questions:

  • Could such an environment really be habitable to life with similar biochemistry* to Earth's?

  • Could abiogenesis occur here? (I doubt it)

That's more or less it. If you need any more details, just ask in a comment. Also, here is Wikipedia's full description of the novels' setting.

*Edit: by similar, I mean low-temperature carbon-water based life, such that there won't be fundamental changes to biology (e.g. inhaling/exhaling different gases)

  • $\begingroup$ Similar is subjective. What you might say is similar, another person would call different. Especially since you are asking on the chemical scale, the answer is basically always yes $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Nov 3 '18 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 edited to clarify what I meant by similar. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Nov 3 '18 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't abiogenesis occur? The big problem isn't life, it's evolution--the gas torus won't last long enough. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 3 '18 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ Editing your question to invalidate an answer is not exactly appreciated... $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 4 '18 at 5:38
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch My apologies, but what else was I to do? You pointed out a more or less fatal flaw in the question, so I either had to edit this one accordingly or ask a new one, leaving your answer on a question that was no longer being asked. If you want, I can revert the edit and ask this in a different question. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi Nov 4 '18 at 12:03

Could such an environment really be habitable to life with similar biochemistry* to Earth's?

First of all, we should check if the star can emit light. According to this page

Neutron stars that can be observed are very hot and typically have a surface temperature of around 600000 K,

which is 100 times the surface temperature of our Sun. This means that the emission is peaked more to the blu-UV region. Not good for life as we know it.


Some neutron stars emit beams of electromagnetic radiation that make them detectable as pulsars,

which I suspect is another hammer blow to the fragility of life.

Further on the same page you can read

Pulsar planets receive little visible light, but massive amounts of ionizing radiation and high-energy stellar wind, which makes them rather hostile environments.

Therefore my conclusion is that no, it's unlikely that such an environment can host carbon based life.

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    $\begingroup$ Does Niven's implied argument that the torus itself would shelter it's interior from the extremes of the stellar environment hold water or are neutron stars just too hot for atmospheric blocking to be a useful effect? $\endgroup$ – Ash Nov 4 '18 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ You write "neutron stars that can be observed." Why couldn't this be a very very old system with a very cool neutron star? I.e. one that would not normally be observed visually. The system might be part of a binary with another star, which is how it would have been discovered. $\endgroup$ – Ross Presser Nov 4 '18 at 17:55

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