This exoplanet is Earth’s very strange third cousin

By examining images from a large telescope in Spain, a team of mostly European astronomers has found what appears to be a very rare type of exoplanet 31 light-years from Earth.

A team led by Diana Kosakowski, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, wrote in: A peer-reviewed study, the latest version of which appeared online on February 2. The study will be published in the journal Astronomy and astrophysics.

Wolf 1069b could be Earth’s cousin. But if that’s the case, this is the weird third cousin you’d avoid at a family reunion. Yes, it seems to be the right size, temperature, and installation to make a good home for life as we know it. But Wolf 1069 b appears to be spinning at just the right speed to keep the same side facing its star at all times. This means that there is constant light or constant darkness depending on which half of the planet you live in. It is also curious that Wolf 1069 b may be alone in its star system. There are no neighboring planets. Not even a moon to keep them company.

With a mixture of familiarity and sheer alienation, Wolf 1069 is unique among exoplanets. Imagine the Earth, but remove the day-night cycle, survey the Moon and survey all the nearby planets in the night sky.

A super exoplanet could help us redefine what we consider a habitable planet. “Wolf 1069 b is a noteworthy discovery that will allow further exploration into the habitability of Earth-mass planets,” Kosakowski’s team wrote.

color out of space

Kosakowski and her colleagues discovered Wolf 1069b in data collected by the Karmenes instrument on the 11.5-foot telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain. Carmenes — which went live in 2016 — detects color changes of a very distant object in space.

These shifts, the results of accordion-like changes in the wavelengths of light reflected from an object, can indicate that object’s motion relative to the observer. An object that changes color in certain ways, at certain periods of time, may be a planet.

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By analyzing images taken by Karmenis between 2017 and 2020, Kosakowski’s team — including scientists in Cyprus, Germany, Spain and the United States — noticed something strange. Spectral patterns indicate a lone planet orbiting the dwarf star Wolf 1069.

The planet appears to be roughly the same size as Earth and similar in composition. That is, rocky rather than gaseous. Equally important, Wolfe 1069b orbits its low-mass star at a distance of about 650,000 miles, placing it in the star’s “habitable zone.” Just close enough to maintain a warm temperature – and thus potential life.

Wolf 1069 as seen by a Sloan Digital Sky survey.

Wikimedia Commons

Scientists have identified more than 5,000 exoplanets. Not many of them are the size of Earth And in the habitable zone of their stars. In fact, only 20 confirmed exoplanets meet these criteria. Among them, Wolf 1069b is the sixth closest to Earth.

All things being equal, Wolf 1069 b should be one of the top priorities as scientists scour the universe for signs of alien life and build a list of habitable planets that our descendants might eventually colonize. But Wolf 1069 b has some strange features. The planet appears to rotate on its axis at the same rate as the planet itself rotates around its star. In other words, the same half of the planet is always facing the sun. There is perpetual night on the far side and perpetual day on the near side.

This does not mean that Wolf 1069 b cannot support life. He. She Do I mean, they’re probably just uninhabitable – and only by species that can adapt to light or dark around the clock.

Giant effect

There’s also the fact that there is no clear evidence of other planets orbiting Wolf 1069’s star. This is really rare. So rare that Kossakowski’s team speculated there might be at least one other planet in the system—but a long time ago, they collided with Wolf 1069 b. “Wolf 1069 b probably had a violent formation history,” the scientists wrote.

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This type of planetary collision – the so-called “giant collision” – is actually very common in the early eons of star system formation. A potential giant collision between Earth and a long-neighboring planet 4.5 billion years ago may have reshaped our then-young planet.

Colossal collisions are unimaginably destructive. But it can also be massively productive once the proverbial dust has settled, millions of years after the impact.

This is especially true with land. “I think the impacts created a great diversity of environments on Earth, including the continents themselves, which ultimately enabled complex microorganisms to evolve,” said Tim Johnson, a geologist at Curtin University in Australia, who was not involved in the study. The Daily Beast.

A collision of this magnitude could also send huge amounts of debris into the orbit of the larger planet. debris that, over time, can clump together and form a moon. Obviously, this is how our moon was formed.

The other weird thing about Wolf 1069 b is that the planet seems to have benefited from all the geological mixing from an apparent giant collision, but no We have a moon that we can see with our telescopes. The moon may exist, but we haven’t found it yet. Or perhaps a moon that never formed and, having sucked in all its planetary neighbors, the exoplanet is truly alone in its corner of the galaxy.

The moon’s absence has some wonderful effects. Our moon pulls our oceans with its gravity, thus creating our tides. Billions of years ago, tides repeatedly cut short aquatic organisms onto dry land, forcing them to adapt. “It appears that the displacement of surface water from the tides… helped life on Earth emerge from the oceans,” Thomas Fuches, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and a member of Kosakowski’s team, told The Daily Beast.

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To be clear, evolution is theoretically possible without tides. “A supermoon doesn’t have to exist for a planet to have life,” Rajdeep Dasgupta, a planetary scientist at Rice University who was not involved in the study, told The Daily Beast.

These tides, Dasgupta said, “will certainly influence the subsequent evolution of the planet.” It’s an astrobiological bonus. So, if there really was life on Wolf 1069 b, it likely followed a very different evolutionary path than life on Earth.

Scan the future

Kosakowski’s team is probably wrong, of course. All we currently know about Wolf 1069 b, we got from some colorful but fuzzy images. As our telescopes improve, so must our data. We may discover we were wrong about the half-dark but apparently habitable planet.

Fauchez is particularly keen to confirm whether Wolf 1069 b is really a b in its own right. “Future surveys of Wolf 1069 b could be looking for an inner planet within the system,” he said, noting that the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b seemed to be alone until a follow-up survey spotted a nearby planet.

On the other hand, these future surveys can discover themselves more Strange planetary features. Kosakowski and her colleagues stress that a planet with no moon and no tides “could lead to unique atmospheric circulation paths” that we can presently only guess at.

On Earth, for example, It tends to rain more When the moon is high in the sky, its gravity slightly warps our atmosphere. In Wolf 1069 b, there may be no moon to influence weather patterns.

Right now, Wolf 1069 b seems really weird but perfectly suitable for living for us or some exotic species. Further study could make it seem more livable, or less. Perhaps it’s less like Earth’s weird third cousin and more like sister. Or maybe you don’t belong in the family at all.

Either way, we should know more soon. Fuchese said he and his colleagues have already put together a plan to investigate the alien exoplanet further.

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