A planet in another solar system described as a cousin to the Earth where humanity could one day live was discovered by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany (MPIA). The Earth-mass exoplanet orbiting in the habitable zone of the red dwarf star Wolf 1069 was found by a team of astronomers led by MPIA scientist Diana Kossakowski.
Although the rotation of this planet, named Wolf 1069 b, is thought to be tidally locked to its orbit around that system’s star, the team said that they are optimistic it may provide durable habitable conditions across a wide area of its dayside. Tidal locking is what happens when a planet or moon orbits a larger body in such a way that it does not rotate on an axis as the Earth does. Instead, one side is in perpetual daylight as it always faces its star and the other is always in darkness. This is how the Moon orbits the Earth.
And this would ordinarily make such a planet less hospitable to human life. However, the side that is always facing the sun has light, so plants could grow. And even on the dark side whenever in the future the technology exists to allow travel to such a faraway planet there will surely also be the ability to use artificial light on a massive scale to allow for crops to be grown on the dark side given the right conditions.
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And the scientists said the absence of any apparent stellar activity or intense UV radiation increases the chances that Wolf 1069 b could have retained much of its atmosphere. Therefore, the planet is one of only a handful of promising targets to search for habitability markers and biosignatures. The results appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
“When we analyzed the data of the star Wolf 1069, we discovered a clear, low-amplitude signal of what appears to be a planet of roughly Earth mass. It orbits the star within 15.6 days at a distance equivalent to one-fifteenth of the separation between the Earth and the Sun,” said MPIA’s Diana Kossakowski.
Another problem with living on the planet is its close range to its star. But despite the close range, Wolf 1069 b only receives about 65% of the incident radiant power of what the Earth obtains from the Sun. Compared to solar properties, Wolf 1069 emits much less radiation, and its surface is cooler, making the star appear orange. These properties result in reduced heating power.
“As a result, the so-called habitable zone is shifted inwards, “explained Diana Kossakowski. Therefore, planets around red dwarf stars such as Wolf 1069 can be habitable even though they are much closer than the Earth is to the Sun.
With a distance of 31 light-years, Wolf 1069 b is the sixth closest Earth-mass planet in the habitable zone of its host star. Because of its favorable prospects regarding habitability, it is among a small illustrious group of targets, such as Proxima Centauri b and TRAPPIST-1 e, to search for bio signatures. Alas, such observations are currently beyond the capabilities of astronomical research.
“We’ll probably have to wait another ten years for this,” Diana Kossakowski pointed out. “Though it’s crucial we develop our facilities considering most of the closest potentially habitable worlds are detected via the RV method only.” The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is under construction in Chile, may be able to characterize the conditions of those planets. Until then, Kossakowski and her team look forward to finding more exciting candidates like Wolf 1069 b.