This newly discovered Earth-sized planet could harbor life

16 November, 2017, 02:28 | Author: Carmen Reese
  • M. Kornmesser

A planet with some similarities to Earth has been discovered "only" 11 light-years (that's a mere 64 trillion miles) from our solar system, astronomers announced in a study published Wednesday.

Ross 128 b orbits the star Ross 128 just 11 light-years away and could be rocky and temperate like Earth, and just about the same size, too.

This artist's impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background.

Scientists at the European Southern Observatory think "Ross 128 B" may be capable of sustaining life. Scientists found that the exoplanet orbits Ross 128 around 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun. The organization discovered the planet, named Ross 128b, orbiting a star within the constellation of Virgo. But this star is also 280 times less luminous than our Sun, so Ross 128 b only receives about 40 percent more light than Earth does.

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.

For that reason, the scientists refer to Ross 128 b as "the best temperate planet known to date".

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Although it is now 11 light-years from Earth, he said Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in "just" 79,000 years - a blink of the eye in cosmic terms. There aren't really any telescopes available right now that can see Ross 128 b directly. 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 is good news for any life that is trying to cling to existence as it means the planet is not being bathed in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

"The planet we found is around one of the quietest stars in the solar neighborhood", Xavier Bonfils, an astronomer at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics in Grenoble, France and lead author of a study in Astronomy & Astrophysics detailing the planet's discovery, tells The Verge.

They're not flawless though as they can intermittently give off vast solar flares that will bathe everything in its path in deadly radiation.

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. Where the habitable zone is depends on the star itself: red dwarfs are dimmer and therefore cooler than the Sun, so their habitable zones are shifted closer in than the equivalent zone around our star. The star is moving toward us, and will overtake Proxima Centauri as the closest sun to ours in about 79,000 years.

Although it is now 11 light-years from Earth, Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in just 79 000 years - a blink of the eye in cosmic terms. Thus, the discovery of an Earth-mass world orbiting the star is significant. The closest is Proxima b, located around Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light-years from Earth.

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