Some two years ago, scientists discovered Wolf 1061c, a potential “super-Earth” exoplanet. As it was a potential future home, a researcher came to explain why the planet is unlikely to be humanity’s next destination.
December 2015 came with some exciting news. A team of University of New South Wales from Australia detected three rocky planets. They were discovered in the orbit of Wolf 1061.
One of the planets fell within the planet’s “Goldilocks zone”. This is the title given sometimes to potentially habitable zones. Such areas are neither too cold or hot for liquid water. This latter is one of the most vital elements for life.
Wolf 1061c is also close to our planet. It is located some 14 light years away. Proxima Centauri b is the closest rocky exoplanet. It is situated 4 light years away from Earth.
Such planets are held as potential new homes for humanity. They are supposed to meet human life needs. But a researcher has expressed his doubts about Wolf 1061c.
Stephen Kane is a San Francisco State University Astrophysicist and Professor. And he has taken a closer look at Wolf 1061c. Which prompted him to denote it from the potential “next Earth” list.
Professor Kane presented his research in a paper. This will be published in the Astrophysical Journal. The study is titled as follows. “Characterization of the Wolf 1061 Planetary System”. It will be released online in an upcoming issue.
According to Kane, Wolf 1061c might be going through a “runaway greenhouse” process. This opinion was prompted by its close position to Wolf 1061.
Runaway greenhouse is an effect which can be best found on Venus. Our neighboring planet may have once had its own oceans. However, the planet also had some massive volcanoes. These filled the planet’s air with carbon dioxide.
As intense sunlight beat on the planet, it started heating it up. The effect continued until the oceans most likely boiled away. It might have also left behind its thick atmosphere. This keeps Venus at an average 880 degrees Fahrenheit temperature.
And such a process may be affecting Wolf 1061c as well. Kane generated models of the star’s radius. Together with his team, they measured the exoplanet. Their measurements were then compared to the “Goldilocks zone” estimates.
Their new estimates pushed the zone’s habitable boundaries outwards. Which places Wolf 1061c very close to the star’s inner edge. And very prone to a fate similar to Venus’s.
And the potential “runaway greenhouse” effect is not its only issue. Even if the planet is in the habitable zone, it does not have to necessarily meet the standards. According to Kane, the exoplanet’s orbit has “very interesting oscillations”.
These make it difficult to predict its climate. Or if it has any, or how it could be in the future.
Wolf 1061c may yet turn out to be habitable. But a more advanced technology would be needed to prove that. More exactly, a new telescopes generation. These will most likely appear sometime in the 2020’s.
Still, two closer mission will potentially offer new details. These are the James Webb Space Telescope. And also the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
They could help scientist look for chemical signatures of life. The light reflected through the surrounding planet’s atmospheres may offer such clues.
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