Astronomers have discovered a planet beyond our Solar System that has a mass similar to Earth’s and is potentially habitable.
The Earth-mass exoplanet orbits a red dwarf star called Wolf 1069 in the constellation Cygnus, just 31 lightyears from Earth.
Known as Wolf 1069 b, the planet is estimated to be about the same size of Earth and also roughly the same mass. The Earth-like exoplanet was discovered by a team of astronomers led by MPIA scientist Diana Kossakowski.
“Although the rotation of this planet, named Wolf 1069 b, is probably tidally locked to its path around the parent star, the team is optimistic it may provide durable habitable conditions across a wide area of its dayside. The absence of any apparent stellar activity or intense UV radiation increases the chances that Wolf 1069b could have retained much of its atmosphere,” as per a release.
One unique feature of Wolf 1069 b is that it is tidally locked to its parent star, meaning one side is always in daylight and the opposite side is always in darkness. (This attribute is shared by the moon in its orbit around Earth, as well as with most habitable exoplanets orbiting red dwarf stars.) While tidal locking means the planet doesn’t have a day/night cycle like Earth, the researchers hope that its dayside could still boast habitable conditions.
Given its relatively short distance from Earth of 31 light-years, Wolf 1069 b is now the sixth closest Earth-mass habitable zone exoplanet; the others are, in order of increasing distance, Proxima Centauri b, GJ 1061 d, Teegarden’s Star c, and GJ 1002 b and c.
The researchers also note that global climate model climate simulations put Wolf 1069 b in a small group of exoplanets that are potential targets in the search for biosignatures, or chemical fingerprints of life.
However, current astronomical research technologies can’t conduct such searches yet.
“We’ll probably have to wait another 10 years for this,” Kossakowski said in the statement. “Though it’s crucial we develop our facilities considering most of the closest potentially habitable worlds are detected via the RV [radial velocity] method only.”