From: Jamie Oppenheim via San Francisco State University
Published January 20, 2017 09:49 AM

SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet

SF State astronomer Stephen Kane searches for signs of life in one of the extrasolar systems closest to Earth

Is there anybody out there? The question of whether Earthlings are alone in the universe has puzzled everyone from biologists and physicists to philosophers and filmmakers. It’s also the driving force behind San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane’s research into exoplanets — planets that exist outside Earth’s solar system.

As one of the world’s leading “planet hunters,” Kane focuses on finding “habitable zones,” areas where water could exist in a liquid state on a planet’s surface if there’s sufficient atmospheric pressure. Kane and his team, including former undergraduate student Miranda Waters, examined the habitable zone on a planetary system 14 light years away. Their findings will appear in the next issue of Astrophysical Journal in a paper titled  “Characterization of the Wolf 1061 Planetary System.”

“The Wolf 1061 system is important because it is so close and that gives other opportunities to do follow-up studies to see if it does indeed have life,” Kane said.  

But it’s not just Wolf 1061’s proximity to Earth that made it an attractive subject for Kane and his team. One of the three known planets in the system, a rocky planet called Wolf 1061c, is entirely within the habitable zone.  With assistance from collaborators at Tennessee State University and in Geneva, Switzerland, they were able to measure the star around which the planet orbits to gain a clearer picture of whether life could exist there.

Continue reading at San Francisco State University

Illustration credit: NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech

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