Scientists just found a fascinating Earth-sized planet that could be habitable
Imagine a distant planet where life could potentially thrive – but perhaps only on one particularly bright side.
Astronomers announced the discovery of a world beyond our solar system, an exoplanet named Wolf 1069 b. Their discovery, recently published in Science Journal Astronomy & Astrophysics(Opens in a new window)is fascinating for exoplanet research for several reasons:
Wolf 1069 b has about the same mass as Earth. That is rare. Among thousands of confirmed exoplanets, “only about 1.5 percent have masses less than two Earth masses,” according to a publication(Opens in a new window) from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, a research institute in Germany. Importantly, we know from experience that rocky, Earth-like worlds can create conditions that might allow life to survive.
Rarely still, Wolf 1069 b orbits in its solar system’s “habitable zone,” meaning a special region where liquid water can exist on the surface.
To the best of researchers’ current knowledge (this may change with more observation), the planet is not being polluted with harmful radiation. Wolf 1069 b orbits a star (Wolf 1069) that is smaller and cooler than the Sun, allowing the world to orbit quite close and still be a potentially habitable world. The planet orbits its little star every 15.6 days!
An odd quirk: Like the moon, Wolf 1069 b is “tidally bound” in its orbit, meaning the same side always faces the red dwarf star. As a result, the “day side” of the planet is always day and the night side is always night.
So if you were on the star-facing side of Wolf 1069 b, a year would be about 16 days, the sun wouldn’t set, the gravity might be similar to that on Earth, and you might even find that water is washing over the surface sloshes .
There are mysterious “super-Earths” all over the galaxy.
Crucially, however, there is still no evidence of life in the universe beyond Earth – although there are exciting contenders for possible habitability in our own solar system. “A habitable planet can be habitable but not inhabited,” Ravi Kumar Kopparapu, an exoplanet researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Mashable earlier this year.
Search for an Earth-sized planet
Finding an Earth-sized world is a big challenge.
Many exoplanets are found by observing whether a star dims as one of these extremely distant planets passes in front of it. However, many of the exoplanets discovered so far are much larger than Earth, making this slight eclipse “easier” to find. Scientists used a different strategy to find Wolf 1069 b, a small planet. They looked for tiny but periodic changes in the star’s light, a technique called the “radial velocity method.” This can provide clues that a planet is tugging at its star. Then scientists calculate Earth’s mass and other information by measuring how much the star’s light changes.
A graphic showing three different exoplanets (Wolf 1069 b above) orbiting in the habitable zones of their solar systems (green area).
Source: MPIA Graphics Department / J. Neidel
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In the vast Universe, Wolf 1069 b is a relatively near Earth-sized discovery, only about 31 light-years away. This makes it a rare find and an exciting planet candidate for studying biosignatures that are evidence of past or present life. ‘Due to its favorable prospects for habitability, it belongs to a small illustrious group of targets such as Proxima Centauri b and TRAPPIST-1 e looking for biosignatures,’ noted the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.
Huge future telescopes will look for these possible biosignatures. what’s out there?
https://mashable.com/article/planet-earth-size-habitable-exoplanet Scientists just found a fascinating Earth-sized planet that could be habitable