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Scientists are checking a nearby exoplanet for alien transmissions

Wolf 1061c is just a few blocks away, cosmically speaking, and alien seekers have begun a long-term campaign to look for signs of life there.

Wolf 1061 c is a "super-Earth" like the one in this artist's rendition.

NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Just 14 light-years away is a star named Wolf 1061 hosting a planet that could be one of our best bets to find life beyond the solar system.

There are three so-called super-Earths in the system, including Wolf 1061c, which orbits in the habitable zone where the temperature is such that liquid water, and therefore life as we know it, could exist.

New research set to be published in the next issue of the Astrophysical Journal (PDF) confirms earlier estimates that the planet orbits near the inside edge of the habitable zone, or closer to its sun, which means it could be more like Venus than Earth. But that hasn't stopped scientists at METI International from checking Wolf 1061 for signs of alien smarts. (METI stands for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.)

METI has pointed its optical telescope in Panama at the star on four separate occasions to search for brief laser pulses sent by an alien civilization. So far the search has yielded nothing, but it's just getting started.

"If there is life on Wolf 1061c, it's likely to be microbial," METI International President Douglas Vakoch told me via email. "So far, we've found no indications of advanced technologies in this promising exoplanet just 14 light-years from Earth."

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The star will be visible from Panama again at the end of February and Vakoch says METI will take another look with a wider bandwidth system to check frequencies that might have been missed before.

When I first heard about Wolf 1061c in 2015, it was thought to be the closest potentially habitable exoplanet to our solar system. It's currently ranked as the third-closest planet orbiting another star that might host life, according to the Planetary Habitability Laboratory.

The new closest exoplanet that might be like Earth is Proxima Cen b, which was discovered last year orbiting in the Alpha Centauri system, our nearest stellar neighbors, making it the closest possible potentially habitable exoplanet. Despite some existing odd stories about potential alien life there, it's also handicapped by some brutal, irradiating and frequent flares from its star.


So while Wolf 1061 is over three times farther than Proxima Cen b, it's still certainly worth checking for ET. Vakoch says the star is also a high priority on a list of stars METI plans to transmit deliberate signals toward by the end of 2018.

"We hope to elicit a response from any extraterrestrials who've been keeping to themselves so far."

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