New earth-like planet found 11 light years from our solar system

16 November, 2017, 02:08 | Author: Pamela Mathis
  • Image used for representational purpose only

This planet, which lies only 11 light-years from Earth, was found by a team using ESO's unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument.

European scientists announced today the discovery of a world orbiting nearby star Ross 128.

The presence of liquid water on ancient Earth is considered to be one of the cornerstones of the evolution of life on our planet, and so if Ross 128 b were unable to host liquid water on its surface, it would be damning to the exoplanet's chances of hosting life.

Two things to keep in mind: We don't know yet if Ross 128b has an atmosphere or, if it has one, whether that atmosphere has the proper composition to support life as we know it. The seven-billion-year-old star's rotation has slowed through the years, meaning it doesn't subject Ross 128b to powerful stellar flares like younger, faster-spinning stars do. "For now, we will continue to monitor the star to search for evidence of additional companions". But the possibility that the exoplanet is habitable has excited some scientists involved in the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life (SETI).

Humanity will also get an increasingly better view of Ross 128 b. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable". While this world is 1.3 x Earth's mass, it wouldn't feel like Earth - it has a dim, red sun and a year that lasts about 10 days.

Ross 128 b falls into this scenario. That would be the sun's next door neighbor, Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light-years away. The temperatures on the planet Ross 128 b could therefore be comparable to those on Earth, estimated at at -60 to 20 degrees Celsius (-76 to 68°F). That plausibly puts it in the habitable zone, but scientists can't yet pin down its vital signs with certainty.

That's why they're sticking to calling the planet "temperate" for now, until they can determine whether it's actually within a habitable zone or just on the cusp. "This means that one side of the planet would always be day, and the other side would be plunged in eternal night". Neither condition is conducive to life.

Proxima Centauri b, for instance - which is just four lightyears away - orbits around its own red dwarf.




It was discovered by a team of researchers who are using the European Space Agency's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

First, the star it orbits is relatively quiet. In this case, it took a decade of HARPS data to detect Ross 128 b. Flaring stars can blast nearby planets with lots of radiation, stripping away their atmospheres and making them uninhabitable.

Ross 128 b location This chart shows the location of Ross 128 b near the constellation Virgo, circled in red at center-right. But because Ross 128 is a red dwarf, it's much smaller and cooler than the sun.

Red dwarfs are also a frequent target for SETI searches, mostly due to their prevalence.

Maybe. This is the plucky star's second time in the spotlight this year.

When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some odd, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128. So in July, Arecibo, the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array, and the Green Bank Telescope listened again. The instrument has helped discover dozens of exoplanets. As a result, its planets are thought to be the closest comfortable locations for any possible alien life. Depending on how you run the numbers, Ross 128b could be outside, inside, or at the inner edge of its habitable zone.

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