A new Earth-sized rocky planet discovered about 31 light-years away may be a “promising target” for searching for signs of extraterrestrial life, according to a new study.
The research, recently published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, describes a planet orbiting its home star – the red dwarf Wolf 1069 – in the habitable zone that may be conducive to liquid water on the planet’s surface.
Researchers, including those at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, say the planet is a rocky planet with an Earth-like mass that may also have an atmosphere.
These features, they say, make the planet one of the few “promising targets” to search for signs of life-friendly conditions and for life-marking molecules.
To put the new discovery into perspective, scientists explain that only a dozen of the more than 5,000 exoplanets currently known to astronomers have Earth-like masses and also occupy a habitable zone where water can exist in liquid form.
“When we analyzed the data from the star Wolf 1069, we found 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 equal to one fifteenth of the distance between the Earth and the Sun,” explains Dr. Kossakowski out.
Despite the planet’s close proximity to the central red dwarf star, it receives only about 65 percent of the incident radiation power of what Earth receives from the Sun.
The star, scientists say, is also “relatively cool” and appears orange-red, shifting the so-called habitable zone inward in this solar system.
Because of these “special circumstances,” researchers say the planets around red dwarf stars like Wolf 1069 could potentially be friendly to life.
Scientists suspect that the red dwarf star and planet may be tidally closed, meaning the star can always face 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, could be about -23C.
If it turns out that the planet has an atmosphere, the temperature could rise to +13C, researchers say based on computer simulations.
Under these conditions, water can remain liquid and life-friendly conditions can prevail on the planet, scientists say.
Based on these factors, the astronomers say the planet “is a promising target for future three-dimensional climate models to explore various habitability cases.”
However, scientists say that looking for signs of life on this rocky planet 31 light-years away is currently beyond the scope of astronomical research.
“We will probably have to wait another 10 years for this,” said Dr. Kossakowski.