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Life on Wolf 1061: Closest Extrasolar System Yet, Is It Habitable?

Jan 23, 2017 07:07 AM EST

Astronomers have located the habitable zone of Wolf 1061, a planetary system just 14 light-years away from Earth. This is the region where water could exist on the surface of a planet -- have we hit the exoplanet jackpot?

This is the question that puzzled biologist and physicists from all around the globe. It's also the same question motivating San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane's research on exoplanets.

Kane, a "planet hunter," focuses on finding habitable zones or areas where water could exist in a liquid state on a planet's surface. This could only happen if the planet has enough atmospheric pressure. His team, including undergraduate Miranda Waters, has been examining the habitable zone of Wolf 1061.

Kane said the system is important in exoplanet studies because it's so close. Meaning, there's a lot of opportunities for follow-up studies.

According to Science Daily, there are currently three planets in the system. One of them, Wolf 1061c, is in the habitable zone of the system. The scientists, with the help of collaborators from Tennessee State University and in Geneva, Switzerland, were able to measure the star the planets are orbiting.

Kane explained that "planet hunters" look for planets inside the Goldilocks Zone, a sweet spot where planets like Earth could exist. It cannot be too close or too far from its parent star. Too far, and water will freeze. Too near, and it will be like Earth's twin Venus.

According to New Indian Express, since Wolf 1061c is closer to the inner edge of its habitable zone, it may have an atmosphere similar to Venus. However, Wolf 1061c's orbit changes at a much faster rate, which means that the climate may be chaotic.

However, the question still stands: are the orbit changes enough to cool off the planet? Kane said this is a possibility, but more research is needed.

Telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble's successor, may hopefully detect atmospheric components of exoplanets such as Wolf 1061c.

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