Newly discovered Earth-like planet could support life

Wendy Jensen
November 16, 2017

The newly discovered world, named Ross 128b, was discovered orbiting a red dwarf, 11 years light from Earth. Today, however, scientists have announced the location of a relatively nearby planet that may be the best candidate we've ever found for supporting life.

Astronomers are planning to use cutting-edge, next-generation observatories to search for evidence of biological life in the atmospheres of select Earth-sized, temperate exoplanets orbiting red dwarf stars. However, Ross 128 is a particularly calm and cool dwarf star, only about 20 percent the diameter of the sun with a little more than half the sun's surface temperature.

The only closer temperate planet is Proxima b, whose star, another red dwarf, bombards it with ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, possibly rendering it uninhabitable.

"We have many instruments coming online to boost the search for planets around similar stars, notably SPIRou at the Canada-France-Hawai-Telescope and NIRPS to complement HARPS at the 3.6m telescope in La Silla", Bonfils told Futurism.

"Ross 128b is very close, which will allow us to see it with a telescope such as E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope) in construction for 2025", Bonfils said. It is estimated that Ross 128 b's surface temperature is close to Earth's, because the luminosity of the star and the planet's distance from it suggest the Earth-like world doesn't get hit with much more energy than our own planet does.

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At just 11 light-years away, it's the second closest exoplanet of its kind to Earth. That would be the sun's next door neighbor, Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light-years away.

More observation on Ross 128 b is needed to know whether there is water present (one of the building blocks of life), but it is close enough to Ross 128 that it could have the prerequisite warmth for water to exist.

Co-discoverer Nicola Astudillo-Defru from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland said the find was the result of more than a decade of intensive monitoring using the Harps instrument.

Where should we look for alien life?

Ross 128 b orbits 20 times closer to its star that the Earth orbits the Sun, yet the exoplanet's star is a lot smaller and weaker than ours, so Ross 128 b receives a similar amount of solar radiation as Earth.

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The magnitude of the wobbles indicates that the planet is at least 1.35 times the mass of Earth but could easily be twice the mass of Earth.

No extraterrestrials have been spotted on Ross 128 b, nor even any alien germs.

The big question: Is Ross 128 b habitable?

"While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a temperate planet, uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet's surface".

Alongside the ESA, NASA's Kepler space telescope has also been hunting for exoplanets and since 2009 has found some 30 planets that fall within their host star's habitable zone.

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Earlier this year, scientists said that they had received unusual pulses coming from the star.

Other reports by Info About Network

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