American astronomers are looking for life around Wolf 1061 by trying to understand exactly what’s going on in the nearby system.
The researchers were able to characterize in detail the properties of the red dwarf star, which is located about 14 light-years from Earth, and work out what the three planets orbiting Wolf 1061 are experiencing.
The star is very different from our Sun, as almost 30 Wolf 1061s could fit within the Sun, it rotates more slowly (89 days versus 28), it’s dimmer, and it's “calmer”. The team found no evidence of star spots or flares. Obviously, for alien hunters, the interesting tidbit is the presence of three planets in the system.
All three of these objects are super-Earths, planets larger than our own but smaller than Neptune. According to the latest research, which is accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal and available on arXiv, the middle planet Wolf 1061c is located within the habitable zone, although close to the inner edge.
Wolf 1061c orbits in almost 18 days, and even though its star has only 0.7 percent of the luminosity of the Sun, it might be more similar to Venus than to Earth. But even such a scenario doesn’t completely fit. The planet moves in an eccentric orbit, so it might go from freezing to roasting in a matter of weeks.
It's possible these dramatic variations balance each other out, and instead of making this world unsuitable, they induce a homely life-supporting environment. One way or another, more research is necessary.
"The Wolf 1061 system is important because it is so close and that gives other opportunities to do follow-up studies to see if it does indeed have life," team leader Stephen Kane, from San Francisco State University, said in a statement.
We have found thousands of exoplanets, but we are yet to find a world that is hospitable for life – at least for life as we know it.