Nearby star hosts closest alien planet in the habitable zone
The planet, more than four times the mass of the Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061.
"It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the 'Goldilocks' zone where it might be possible for liquid water—and maybe even life—to exist," says lead study author UNSW's Dr Duncan Wright.
"It is fascinating to look out at the vastness of space and think a star so very close to us—a near neighbour—could host a habitable planet.
"While a few other planets have been found that orbit stars closer to us than Wolf 1061, those planets are not considered to be remotely habitable," Dr Wright says.
The three newly detected planets orbit the small, relatively cool and stable star about every 5, 18 and 67 days. Their masses are at least 1.4, 4.3 and 5.2 times that of Earth, respectively.
The larger outer planet falls just outside the outer boundary of the habitable zone and is also likely to be rocky, while the smaller inner planet is too close to the star to be habitable. ■