A new rocky, Earth-sized planet discovered some 31 light-years away may be a “promising target” to search for signs of extraterrestrial life, according to a new study.
The research, recently published in the journal astronomy And Astrophysics, describes a planet orbiting its natal star, the red dwarf Wolf 1069, in the habitable zone that may be conducive to liquid water on the planet’s surface.
The researchers, including those at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, say the planet is a rocky planet with a similar mass to Earth that may also have an atmosphere.
These features, they say, make the planet one of the few “promising targets” to search for signs of conditions favorable to life, as well as life-signature molecules.
To put the new discovery into perspective, the scientists explain that only a dozen of the more than 5,000 exoplanets currently known to astronomers have a mass similar to that of Earth and also occupy a habitable zone where water can exist in liquid form.
“When we analyzed the data from the star Wolf 1069, we discovered a clear low-amplitude signal from what appears to be a planet about the mass of Earth,” study co-author Diana Kossakowski said in a statement.
“It orbits the star in 15.6 days at a distance equivalent to one-fifteenth the distance between the Earth and the Sun,” explained Dr. Kossakowski.
Despite the planet’s short distance from the central red dwarf star, it receives only about 65 percent of the incident radiant power of what Earth receives from the Sun.
The star, say the scientists, is also “relatively cool” and appears reddish-orange, leading the so-called habitable zone to drift deeper into this solar system.
Due to these “special conditions”, the researchers say that planets around red dwarf stars like Wolf 1069 may be potentially friendly to life.
Scientists suspect that the red dwarf star and the planet may be tidally locked, meaning the star may always be facing the same side of the planet, similar to how Earth always faces the same side of the Moon. .
They speculate that the average temperature on the rocky planet, even on the side facing the star, may be as low as minus 23°C.
If the planet is found to have an atmosphere, its temperature may be up to +13C, the researchers say based on computer simulations.
Under these conditions, water can remain liquid and favorable conditions for life on the planet can prevail, scientists say.
Based on these factors, the astronomers say the planet is “a very promising target for future three-dimensional climate models to investigate various cases of habitability.”
However, scientists say that searching for signs of life on this rocky planet 31 light-years away is currently beyond the capabilities of astronomical research.
“We’ll probably have to wait another 10 years for this,” Dr. Kossakowski said.