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New Planetary Discovery Is An Important Step For Finding Another Earth

New Planetary Discovery Is An Important Step For Finding Another Earth

The exoplanet Ross 128 b is located just 11 light-years away from our own Solar System and has become a new candidate in the search for extraterrestrial life.

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.

Astronomers working with the European Southern Observatory's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile has found that the red dwarf star Ross 128 is orbited by a low-mass "exoplanet" every 9.9 days.

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

It is the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star.

But these are comparatively hard to detect; most of the 3,500 known exoplanets are so-called Hot Jupiters - huge gas giants orbiting very close to their parent stars that likely don't have suitable conditions for life.

Proxima b, the closest temperate exoplanet to us, orbits just such an active star.

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As was previously noted, Ross 128 is now 11 light-years from Earth, but it's moving toward us and, as a result, it will one day be our nearest stellar neighbor...not for 79,000 years, but in cosmic terms, that is just the blink of an eye. In June, one was discovered in the orbit of GJ 625, around 21 light-years away, and in August, an exoplanet was spotted in a system that's just 16 light-years away. If the ELT can see into Ross 128 b's atmosphere and find the critical gases associated with life - water vapor, oxygen, and methane - then scientists will have a better idea of whether life is present. After taking 116 measurements with HARPS, the team was able to conclude that an Earth-sized planet was orbiting around the star.

The scientists who discovered the planet tell National Geographic, which first reported the news, that they'll need more data going forward. "But Ross 128 b is at least theoretically habitable - and what's more, it's extremely nearby". Earlier this year, Ross 128 made headlines because it appeared to be sending out a semi-repeating radio signal.

Humanity will also get an increasingly better view of Ross 128 b. That puts the planet about 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable".

"Meanwhile, it is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet rather than as a habitable zone planet", the authors wrote. As a result, its planets are thought to be the closest comfortable locations for any possible alien life.

That's led scientists to believe it has a temperature between -60°C and 20°C although it's unclear whether water exists there.

When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some unusual, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128.


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