Scientists discover Earth-sized planet that 'could potentially sustain life'

Terry Joseph
November 16, 2017

A new earth-like planet has been found, just 11 light years from our solar system. "Small stars like Ross 128 emit most of their light in the infrared, so infrared HARPS promise much more discoveries", he added.

While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a moderately temperate planet, uncertainty persists as to whether the planet is inside, outside, or at the top of a habitable zone, where liquid water exists on the surface of the planet.

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. 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 128 appears at the center of the picture.

But what has got people especially excited is its star, Ross 128. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable". Depending on the star's temperature, this region changes. In fact, most red dwarfs are prone to flaring, which is bad news in the search for alien life outside our Solar System.

The Earth-sized world is estimated to have a temperate climate, with surface temperatures that may also be close to Earth.

Ross 128 b falls into this scenario. The world, which is about one-and-a-half times the mass of Earth, may be in the star's habitable zone, too. The researchers said the temperatures on the planet likely range from minus-76 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-60 to 20 degrees Celsius). That plausibly puts it in the habitable zone, but scientists can't yet pin down its vital signs with certainty. "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.

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First there was Proxima b, the Earth-sized planet orbiting the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri. But since Ross 128 is less active than Proxima Centauri, it is now "the closest known comfortable adobe for possible life", according to the European Southern Observatory. 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.

Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin This image shows the sky around the red dwarf star Ross 128 in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin).

If the newly discovered planet were the same distance from the red dwarf as Earth is from the sun, it would be frigid. It's actually easier to detect exoplanets around red dwarfs because the stars are much fainter (none are visible with the naked eye from Earth) and thus don't wash out their surroundings as drastically.

Red dwarfs are also a frequent target for SETI searches, mostly due to their prevalence. Abel Méndez, the director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at Arecibo, nicknamed them "the Weird!" Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets. "They list all the close encounters with other stars, and because of the relative movements of stars and the Sun, it results that Ross 128 will be our closest star".

Earlier this year, scientists said that they had received unusual pulses coming from the star. The instrument has helped discover dozens of exoplanets. His team plans to continue observing the system.

They include the ESO's 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope under construction in Chile which is due to begin operating in 2024.

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