Hello, neighbor! Nearby planet could support life

Gwen Vasquez
November 16, 2017

Scientists suspect the temperate planet may offer them their best chance yet at finding alien life.

The new exoplanet, named Ross 128 b, has numerous properties necessary for supporting life: It's a similar size to Earth, it has a rocky surface, and the distance from its star potentially puts it in the "habitable zone"- the area around a star where temperatures allow water to remain liquid on the surface of a planet. Around this period, Ross 128 b will then take over from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth!

Known as Ross 128b, the newly discovered planet orbits a life friendly red dwarf star that is an estimated seven billion years old. The flare up problem is why the closest Earth-size planet at Proxima Centauri is considered a relatively poor candidate for life. Close inspection reveals that Ross 128 has a odd multiple appearance as this image was created from photographs taken over a more than forty year period by the Digitized Sky Survey 2, and the star, which is only 11 light-years from Earth, moved across the sky significantly during this time.

Ross 128b orbits 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun but gets less radiation than Earth. That means the planet may have a surface temperature similar to Earth.

Such a tight orbit would render Ross 128b uninhabitable in our own solar system. It also orbits around its host star (a red-dwarf) every 9.9 days. The High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) looks for tiny wobbles in a star's motion caused by the gravitational tug-of-war between the star and its planets.

Xavier Bonfils, the lead author of the paper announcing the discovery in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, told me via email Ross 128 b has a mass about 1.35 times that of Earth. The star Ross 128 is part of the constellation of Virgo. The blasts of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation can rip away a nearby exoplanet's atmosphere and limit the possibility for alien life.

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Astronomers have discovered a nearby exoplanet that should instantly top the list of worlds beyond our solar system worth checking for signs of alien life.

Ross 128 b has numerous hallmarks that make for a promising target in the search for extraterrestrial life as it shares many similarities to Earth, the only world on which life is known to exist. 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.

Bonfils said Ross 128 appears to be at least 5 billion years old - older than our solar system - and perhaps as old as 10 billion years.

Often, red dwarfs release periodic flares.

When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some odd, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128. They hope to find out during follow up analysis using ESO's Extremely Large Telescope.

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

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