Astronomers have discovered a rocky exoplanet about a few dozen light years away from Earth with conditions that could make it habitable.
The team found what it describes as an “Earth-mass exoplanet” orbiting around the red dwarf star Wolf 1069.
The exoplanet, named Wolf 1069 b, is notable for being one of few exoplanets discovered that occupy the so-called “circumstellar habitable zone,” or the range where water can stay in liquid form on the planet’s surface.
At 31 light years away, Wolf 1069 b is the sixth closest Earth-mass planet to us.
The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
“When we analysed 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 of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany and main author of the study said in a news release from Feb. 3.
“It orbits the star within 15.6 days at a distance equivalent to one-fifteenth of the separation between the Earth and the Sun.”
The astronomers located the planet by looking at low-mass stars such as red dwarfs.
Despite being relatively close together, the red dwarf star the astronomers observed for the study releases less radiation and has a cooler surface, making it appear orange.
This means that planets orbiting around the star could still be habitable despite being closer.
Using computer simulations and climate models, the researchers say the exoplanet may also have temperatures moderate enough to keep its surface water liquid.
The type of atmosphere the planet could have would protect it from the stellar winds and UV radiation that typically come from red dwarf stars, the astronomers say.
Another feature of Wolf 1069 b is that its rotation may be tidally locked to its orbit, meaning the same side always faces the star and experiences eternal daylight, similar to the Earth’s moon.
Tidal forces would also slightly change the planet’s shape into an ellipsoid, the researchers say, meaning the star’s gravity would act differently on the planet’s surface making certain areas potentially habitable.
Last month, researchers announced that the James Webb Space Telescope had discovered its first exoplanet, LHS 475 b, a rocky world 41 light years away from, and nearly the same size as, Earth.
With files from CNN
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