In an attempt to search for life outside Earth, an astronomer has studied an exoplanet called Wolf 1061 and found the celestial body could be habitable in the future.
Astronomer Stephen Kane from San Francisco State University, in his research focused on finding “habitable zones” where water could exist in a liquid state on a planet’s surface.
Kane and his team examined a habitable zone on a planetary system 14 light years away. “The Wolf 1061 system is important because it is so close and that gives other opportunities to do follow-up studies to see if it does indeed have life,” Kane said in a statement.
One of the three known planets in the Wolf 1061 system, a rocky planet called Wolf 1061c, is entirely within the habitable zone.
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When scientists search for planets that could sustain life, they are basically looking for a planet with nearly identical properties to Earth.
“Simply put, the planet can’t be too close or too far from its parent star. A planet that’s too close would be too hot like Earth’s twin Venus. If it’s too far, it may be too cold and any water would freeze, which is what happens on Mars,” Kane noted.
Since Wolf 1061c is close to the inner edge of the habitable zone, meaning closer to the star, it could be that the planet has an atmosphere that’s more similar to Venus.
Kane and his team also observed that unlike Earth, which experiences climatic changes such as an ice age because of slow variations in its orbit around the sun, Wolf 1061c’s orbit changes at a much faster rate, which could mean the climate there could be quite chaotic.
According to Kane, life is possible on Wolf 1061c under one possibility — the short time scales over which Wolf 1061c’s orbit changes could be enough that it could actually cool the planet off.
But fully understanding what’s happening on the planet’s surface will take more research, he added.
The findings are forthcoming in the Astrophysical Journal in a paper titled “Characterization of the Wolf 1061 Planetary System”.