Newly discovered Earth-like planet could support life

A New Planet Has Been Discovered... And It's Called 'Ross'

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 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.

Some readers may recall there's an even closer Earth-sized planet to us that is a mere 4.25 light years away called Proxima Centauri.

Astronomers spotted Ross 128 b using their new planet-hunting telescope, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS). And based on their wobble measurements, the researchers found that Ross 128 b is very close to its sun, in an orbit that takes just 10 Earth days to complete. Our planetary search techniques rely on measuring variations in gravity or a star's apparent magnitude as a planet transits across it, and smaller planets are much harder to find with these methods.

The newly discovered exoplanet orbits its star 20 times closer than Earth orbits the sun.

The Earth-sized world may have a surface temperature close to that of the Earth. In our own solar system, it's the area roughly between the orbits of Venus and Mars. Orbiting planets, while tiny, can gravitationally tug on a star, causing the star to shake in its orbit.

Bonfils and his team spent about a decade monitoring this red dwarf, called Ross 128, before they figured out a planet was lurking around it. In fact, most red dwarfs are prone to flaring, which is bad news in the search for alien life outside our Solar System. Considering the oldest human remains are thought to be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years old, it's not insane to think our species could still be roaming the Earth when Ross 128 b becomes the closest exoplanet to our home world.

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. The system is moving toward Earth, and in just 79,000 years, it will be the closest exoplanet to our solar system. For that reason, the scientists refer to Ross 128 b as "the best temperate planet known to date". The star may have been more turbulent in its youth.

Often, red dwarfs release periodic flares.

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

And the star may indeed be targeted in the not-too-distant-future - by giant ground-based instruments such as the European Extremely Large Telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope, and the Thirty Meter Telescope, all of which are scheduled to be up and running by the mid-2020s. Notably, this planet has a mass that is similar to Earth's.

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



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