It is 31 light-years from Earth, but possibly inhabited: According to researchers, the exoplanet "Wolf 1069 b" could not only have an atmosphere, but also liquid water on the surface and spring-like temperatures - at least on one side.
Researchers have discovered a planet that could potentially be habitable. The exoplanet "Wolf 1069 b" has an earth-like mass, said the Max Planck Society in Munich. It may also have an atmosphere. It orbits its home star, the dwarf star Wolf 1069, at a distance that would allow liquid water on the planet's surface. A search for life could be worthwhile there.
Planetary celestial bodies outside of the solar system are called exoplanets. "Wolf 1069 b" orbits its star within 15.6 days. Their distance from each other corresponds to about a fifteenth of the distance between the earth and the sun. Despite the small distance to the star, "Wolf 1069 b" only receives about 65 percent of the radiant power that Earth receives from the sun. This makes the planet potentially livable.
The rotation is probably tied to the orbit around the central star. "1069 Wolf b" always turns the same side to its central star. On one side there is eternal day, on the other eternal night. This is also the reason why the same side of the moon can always be seen from Earth.
Assuming that "Wolf 1069 b" is a barren and rocky planet, the average temperature on the side facing the star would be minus 23 degrees Celsius. But it is possible that the planet has an atmosphere. Under this assumption, the temperature there could have risen to plus 13 degrees, according to a computer simulation. Thus, water would remain liquid and life-friendly conditions could prevail.
An atmosphere is considered a prerequisite for the emergence of life. This could also protect "Wolf 1069 b" from electromagnetic radiation that would destroy conceivable biomolecules. It is even possible that the planet has a magnetic field that protects it from charged stellar wind particles.
The first exoplanet was discovered about 30 years ago. Of the more than 5,000 planets of this type identified so far, only about a dozen have features similar to "Wolf 1069 b". The newly discovered exoplanet is 31 light years from Earth. Of the potentially life-friendly exoplanets, it is the sixth closest in distance to Earth.
According to the researchers, it is not yet possible to clarify whether the conditions there are actually habitable. "We will probably have to wait another ten years for this," explained research leader Diana Kossakowski from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. The so-called Extremely Large Telescope is currently being built in Chile. This could be able to study the composition of the atmosphere of exoplanets and detect signs of life.