Space

Closest potentially habitable planet found just 14 light years away

Closest potentially habitable ...
Wolf 1061 and its orbiting planets with the habitable region in green
Wolf 1061 and its orbiting planets with the habitable region in green
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ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile
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ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile
Wolf 1061 and its orbiting planets with the habitable region in green
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Wolf 1061 and its orbiting planets with the habitable region in green
The sky area in the constellation of Ophiucus near the red dwarf star Wolf 1061
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The sky area in the constellation of Ophiucus near the red dwarf star Wolf 1061

Our nearest cosmic neighbors may be closer than we think. A team of astronomers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have announced the discovery of what could be the closest habitable planet beyond the Solar System. Orbiting the red dwarf star Wolf 1061 in the constellation of Ophiuchus, the planet is only 14 light years from Earth, which is closer than the exoplanet Gliese 667Cc's 22 light years.

According to UNSW, the planet was discovered using the HARPS spectrograph installed on the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile. The team studied a decade of observations using a new technique that's said to improve the analysis of the planet-hunting telescope.

The planet, designated Wolf 1061c, is four times the mass of Earth and one of three discovered orbiting the Wolf 1061 star. The team says that their masses are 1.4, 4.3, and 5.2 times that of Earth and orbit the star in 5, 18, and 67 days respectively. Wolf 1061c is the middle of the three.

ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile
ESO’s La Silla Observatory in northern Chile

All of the planets have a low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and Wolf 1061c sits in the habitable, or "Goldilocks" zone, where temperatures are suitable for the existence of liquid water and, therefore, has the basic potential for life. The two other planets are, like the porridge in the fairy tale, too hot and too cold.

The team stresses that though other exoplanets have been discovered that are closer than Wolf 1061c, none of these others are considered habitable.

"The close proximity of the planets around Wolf 1061 means there is a good chance these planets may pass across the face of the star," says team member Dr Rob Wittenmyer. "If they do, then it may be possible to study the atmospheres of these planets in future to see whether they would be conducive to life."

The team's results will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Source: UNSW

27 comments
tapasmonkey
Good to know, but that's still 126,000,000,000,000km
gizmowiz
I like the name!
Kaido Tiigisoon
I doubt in habitability of this planet. Being so close to inner border of habitable zone and being so massive means that planet has thick atmosphere with high pressure and high temperature. Thus making it more like Venus than like Earth.
Bob
Habitable to who or what? With a mass 4.3 times earth, it would take a fantastically strong creature just to move around. Landing and takeoff on such a planet would be nearly impossible. The atmosphere would be very dense and compressed near the surface. Tectonic activity and radiation from such a close star would be extreme. That's not my definition of habitable.
Howard Pieratt
I didn't think red dwarf stars were so cool that an 18-day orbit would be considered habitable.
Old_Rider
Imagine the gravity, I'm sure it is not habitable for us... When you start looking for life, yeah maybe, but looking for a suitable habitat for us will be a lot more complicated than just finding rock, water and air we can breathe.
PeterLosh
That's great! So close!I think I'll book a flight.
TonyCossio
The mass of the planet does not mean the SURFACE gravity is that much greater. A planet with the 8x the mass of earth has a surface gravity of only 1.4x+. A planet’s surface gravity is mass divided by the radius squared. That is, SG=M/R^2.
LarryGiovanetti
Wow, only 82 trillion miles away. If our fastest space probe were launched when the pyramids were built, it still wouldn't be half way to this "neighbor".
CharlieSeattle
How much stronger is the surface gravity?