Scientists discover 'nearby' Earth-like planet that could potentially support life

Newly Discovered Exoplanet With Earth-Like Temperature Becomes Candidate In Search For Life

Newly Discovered Exoplanet With Earth-Like Temperature Becomes Candidate In Search For Life

Astronomers have discovered a planet 35 percent more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun.

Bonfils and his colleagues found Ross 128b using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), an instrument at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile. It is estimated that Ross 128 b's surface temperature is close to Earth's, because the luminosity of the star and the planet's distance from it suggest the Earth-like world doesn't get hit with much more energy than our own planet does.

Astronomers say that increases the chances it could sustain life.

The HARPS observations allowed Bonfils and his team to determine that Ross 128b has a minimum mass 1.35 times that of Earth, and that the planet orbits its host star once every 9.9 Earth days. After Proxima b, Ross 128 b is the second closest temperate planet to be found.

European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is set to search for this on this planet and other ones orbiting the red dwarf sun.

The exoplanet orbits a red dwarf star called Ross 128, the same star that scientists thought they had caught sending out weird radio signals earlier this year. Ross 128 appears at the center of the picture.

Red dwarfs are some of the coolest, faintest - and most common - stars in the Universe.

Méndez did not change his analysis in light of the new exoplanet discovery, but he said his group would keep an eye on that area of the sky. The scientists still have to constrain where that habitable zone lies to figure out if Ross 128 b rests inside it.

But the reason astronomers are excited about Ross 128 b is because the star is "quiet".

"In fact, lead author Xavier Bonfils (Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble - Université Grenoble-Alpes/CNRS, Grenoble, France), named their HARPS programme The shortcut to happiness, as it is easier to detect small cool siblings of Earth around these stars, than around stars more similar to the Sun", the ESO explained. They are also considered to be among the best hopes for supporting life on planets outside our solar system because they exist within the "habitable zones" of their stars, where liquid water could pool on the surface of the planet and potentially support life as we know it. The astronomers detail their discovery in a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Ross 128 b may also one day be closer to us than Proxima b, because its solar system is moving in our direction, according to the ESO.

Finding oxygen in the atmosphere of Ross 128 b - or any other nearby planet - would be a strong indicator that perhaps the world was not just habitable but actually hosted extraterrestrial life.

It might now be 11 light-years from Earth, but Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in 79,000 years.

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