Astronomers are preparing to search for life on a neighboring exoplanet

Astronomers are preparing to search for life on a neighboring exoplanet

The Wolf 1061 star system is located just 14 light years from Earth. A team of astronomers creates the foundation to begin searching for signs of extraterrestrial biology in one of the atmospheres of the planets.

As we continue to hunt the inhabited worlds outside our solar system, we are finding more and more candidates near our homeland. So, even a small, rocky exoplanet in the “habitable zone” of Proxima Centauri is a graceful dwarf located nearby. But there are still objects, and astronomers are beginning to speculate on which of the nearest worlds we could look with using next-generation telescopes.

The question was raised around a potentially habitable exoplanet orbiting the star Wolf 1061, located literally on our galactic threshold. It contains three exoplanets, so it can be an interesting target for the James Webb NASA telescope (JWST), which is planned to be launched in 2018 at Sun-Earth L2C, a place of gravitational calm located a million miles from the earth's shadow. Infrared JWST can be used to detect the components of the atmosphere in worlds that are hypothetically capable of supporting life. Other hunter projects include Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), Characterizing ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS), and the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO) mission, which characterize the inhabited potential of distant worlds. Located in habitable areas, exoplanets (such as Wolf 1061) are thought to be suitable for maintaining liquid water on the surface. Many believe that the situation is repeated with the Earth, which means that if there is water, then there must be life. This is still the main feature, but there are several factors that indicate a life potential. So, if we manage to properly examine the atmosphere, we would be able to detect chemicals that will give information about the presence of “biomarkers” - evidence of biological processes. Wolf 1061c is a rocky exoplanet, which is one of the closest objects to be studied.

“The system is important because it is close and allows you to conduct all sorts of research if we really find signs of life,” said Stephen Kane, an astronomer at San Francisco State University.

Working with scientists from the University of Tennessee in Geneva (Switzerland), Kane's team took accurate measurements of the Wolf 1061 system to calculate the degree of fitness for life in its zone, stellar activity, and planetary orbits. Interestingly, the object has a chaotic orbit, which largely depends on the gravitational force of other planets in the system. Because of this, it periodically comes closer to the star, and another time it moves away. It also occupies the inner edge of the star's habitable zone, which creates a certain dilemma on habitability. For example, Venus lies within the inner edge of the habitable zone of the Sun, but there is no life on it. Due to the greenhouse effect, its atmosphere has become too thick and toxic (lead boiling point). Although, perhaps, once upon a time there was water from atoms of hydrogen and oxygen on it. Some of its areas resemble the Earth so much that theories are being born that life forms can “float” high above the atmosphere of low pressure.

It is possible that Wolff 1061c is the same “exo-venus”, although the variability of its orbit can create bursts from global cooling to intense warming. “A sharp rise and fall can seriously affect the overall condition of an object,” says Kane.

Wolf 1061c can be limited in size and vary the distance to the star. But life is possible on it. However, whether it will be similar to the one to which we are accustomed, remains to be learned.

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