Astronomers have already discovered more than 5,200 exoplanets, but only less than 200 of them are not gas giants and have rocky surfaces, meaning they could potentially be habitable. Recently, another planet was added to this list; the Wolf 1069 b, which orbits the red dwarf planet Wolf 1069 and is only 31 light-years away from Earth.
According to a study by a team of fifty astronomers, Wolf 1069 b is a potentially rocky planet with a mass of 1.26 times that of Earth and a size of 1.08 times that of Earth. And all these data, and the distance of the planet from the star around which it revolves, enable astronomers to assume that there may be liquid water on the surface of this planet, reports Space.com.
"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," Diana Kossakowski, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany and lead author on the new research, said in a statement. "It orbits the star within 15.6 days at a distance equivalent to one-15th of the separation between the Earth and the sun."
By comparison, Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, orbits the latter in 88 days. The surface temperature of Mercury is about +430 degrees Celsius. Unlike Mercury, Wolf 1069 b is within its star's “habitable zone,” despite its much shorter orbital period of 15.6 days. The thing is that Wolf 1069 b orbits a red dwarf planet that is much smaller than our Sun, and therefore Wolf 1069 b receives about 65% of the solar radiation that Earth receives. The surface temperature of the planet, according to scientists, varies from -95.15 degrees to -12.85 degrees Celsius, and the average temperature is -40.14 degrees Celsius.
Another interesting feature of Wolf 1069 b is that it is likely to be in synchronous rotation with its star; this means that one side of the planet is constantly illuminated and heated, while the other side is constantly shadowed and cold, like the Moon orbiting the Earth. But despite this, life may still exist in some regions of this planet.
Wolf 1069 b was discovered using the CARMENES (High-Resolution Search for M Dwarfs with Exoearths with Near-infrared and Optical Echelle Spectrographs) instrument on the 3.5-meter telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain.
Given its relatively short distance from Earth at 31 light-years, Wolf 1069 b now ranks an honorable sixth on the list of the nearest potentially habitable exoplanets. The other five planets are:
Climate modeling studies place Wolf 1069 b among a small group of exoplanets that could be potential targets for the search for evidence of life or the possibility of life, the researchers said. But modern astronomical technology does not yet allow such studies, although it is possible that they will become available in ten years.