Published: Mon, January 23, 2017
Research | By Elizabeth Houston

Wolf 1061c: Search for alien life on nearby 'habitable' planet

Scientists are now searching for life on a nearby exoplanet that sits squarely within the "Goldilocks zone" - the sweet spot in space where conditions are just right for water to exist.

Wolf 1061c orbits the star Wolf 1061 with two other planets and is in the goldilocks zone - an orbital region which is neither too hot, nor too cold to sustain life.

Astronomer Stephen Kane from San Francisco State University focused on finding "habitable zones" where water could exist in a liquid state on a planet's surface.

"It is close enough to the star where it is looking suspiciously like a runaway greenhouse", said Kane.

METI will continue its search for life outside the solar system, regardless of what it does or does not find on Wolf 1061c.

An artist's rendering of the exoplanet Wolf 1061c.

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The planet's orbit is believed to lie near the inner edge of the habitable zone, close to its sun.

"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", Kane said, according to Sci News. However, he feels that the fact that a planet that is sort of like Earth and in such proximity is a great sign, especially in the human quest for life on alternate planets.

Exoplanets that orbit too close, a fate which exoplanet Wolf 1061c might have, can, if conditions are met, succumb to a "runaway greenhouse effect", where a warming planetary body finds its heat trapped inside its atmosphere.

Kane said when scientists look out for planets that could sustain life, they basically look for a planet having almost identical properties to Earth. Intense sunlight could then heat the planet until the oceans boiled away, leaving a thick atmosphere that keeps the planet's temperature at a toasty 880 degrees Fahrenheit. Stephen Kane often searches for exoplanets in the stars' inhabitable regions and finding the Wolf 1061c to be positioned in the inhabitable zone, he chose to lead an incursion into exploring if the presence and formation of extraterrestrial life are possible on Wolf 1061c or not.

"These findings all beg the question: Is life possible on Wolf 1061c?"

But Wolf 1061c has an unusually chaotic orbit that means it may experience periods of cooling, enabling water to form. It's now ranked as the third-closest planet orbiting another star that might host life, according to the Planetary Habitability Laboratory. Still, he cautioned that to get a better understanding of what was happening on the exoplanet surface, more research would be necessary. The habitable zone is that area in between that is more hospitable to the development and sustenance of life.

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