Planet hunters discover Earth-like world that could sustain life

Kelvin Reese
November 16, 2017

11 light-years away from Earth, Ross 128 b is the second closest exoplanet to our solar system, next to only Proxima b.

Ross 128 is the "quietest" nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet and its newly discovered companion - which orbits its host star in only 9.9 days - is the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after the discovery of Proxima b a year ago.

Ross 128 b was discovered by researchers using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) located at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

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. But, although close, Ross 128b only received irradiation 1.38 times more than Earth.

Red dwarfs are the most common stars in the galaxy, making up about 70 percent of all known stars, and tend to hold water-friendly planets in their orbit.

After finding an exoplanet, scientists need to test its atmosphere, but the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope will only be able to do those kinds of tests for the closest exoplanets. Around this period, Ross 128 b will then take over from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth!

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Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet in the same solar system where "alien signals" were detected earlier this year. That would be the sun's next door neighbor, Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light-years away. "Ross 128 is one of the quietest stars of our sample, and although it is a little further away from us, it makes for an excellent alternative target".

It may seem like an out-of-this-world claim, but if there was ever a place that could support life - whether that be alien or Earthling, sometime in the future - this appears to be it.

Humanity will also get an increasingly better view of Ross 128 b.

Astronomers have also discovered that Ross 128 b is roughly the same size as Earth and may have a similar temperature on its surface, though more observation is needed. The discovery of Proxima b was announced in August 2016 to huge excitement, but there are serious doubts regarding its potential habitability that stems from the nature of its red dwarf parent star, Proxima Centauri. There's always some play in these numbers - since we haven't found a guaranteed-habitable planet yet, we can't say for certain if the habitable zone is properly calibrated. There aren't really any telescopes available right now that can see Ross 128 b directly. Scientists say a planet needs temperatures between -60°C and +20°C to be considered temperate. However, Ross 128 b is the "quietest" nearby star to host a temperate exoplanet.

"Meanwhile, it is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet rather than as a habitable zone planet", the authors wrote.

When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some unusual, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128.

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