February 5, 2023: Astronomers from around the world have confirmed the existence of a new exoplanet, Wolf 1069 b, located just 31 light-years from Earth. This discovery is exciting because Wolf 1069 b is a potential rocky world with a mass of about 1.26 times that of Earth and a size of 1.08 times that of Earth. It is also located in the habitable zone of its parent star, Wolf 1069, a red dwarf star, which increases the chances of liquid water existing on its surface.
The team of 50 astronomers, led by Diana Kossakowski from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, discovered Wolf 1069 b using the CARMENES instrument at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain. This instrument can observe astronomical objects using two separate spectrographs in both the visual and near-infrared channels. The exoplanet was detected using the radial velocity method, which detects small wiggles in a star's location caused by a planet's gravity.
Wolf 1069 b is tidally locked to its parent star, which means one side is always in daylight and the opposite side is in darkness. Although this means that the planet doesn't have a day/night cycle like Earth, the researchers hope that the dayside of the planet could still have habitable conditions.
The planet has surface temperatures that range from minus 139.27 degrees Fahrenheit to 55.13 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average temperature of minus 40.25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wolf 1069 b is now the sixth closest Earth-mass habitable zone exoplanet to Earth and is a potential target in the search for biosignatures or chemical fingerprints of life. However, current astronomical research technologies cannot conduct such searches yet, and the researchers believe that it will take another 10 years to develop the necessary facilities. In the meantime, the team is conducting two follow-up studies to better understand the Wolf 1069 system.
This discovery highlights the importance of international collaboration in astronomy. Kossakowski considers herself the project manager of the planet discovery, bringing together the brightest minds in the field to achieve something great. Astronomy is a collaborative effort, and without the contributions of each team member, the discovery of Wolf 1069 b would not have been possible.
In conclusion, the discovery of Wolf 1069 b is a promising step forward in the search for potentially habitable exoplanets. The team's continued efforts to better understand this system will bring us closer to answering the question of whether life exists beyond our own planet.