The search for a second ‘Earth’ may finally be coming to an end with the discovery of the closest potentially habitable planet outside our solar system, just 14 light years away.
The planet, more than four times the mass of the Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061.
Lead author Duncan Wright from theUniversity of New South Wales said that it is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone where it might be possible for liquid water and maybe even life to exist.
While a few other planets have been found that orbit stars closer to us than Wolf 1061, those planets are not considered to be remotely habitable, Wright said.
The three newly detected planets orbit the small, relatively cool and stable star about every 5, 18 and 67 days. Their masses are at least 1.4, 4.3 and 5.2 times that of Earth, respectively.
The larger outer planet falls just outside the outer boundary of the habitable zone and is also likely to be rocky, while the smaller inner planet is too close to the star to be habitable.
The discovery will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.