Newly discovered planet could be home to alien life

Nearby exoplanet is a target for life

The planet is about the same size as Earth, and it may have a similar surface temperature, making it a temperate world that could support life.

The planet orbits the star once every 9.9 days, meaning that its day and night cycles are approximately 10 times longer than they are on Earth.

Astronomers found Ross 128 b using the ESO's High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher - also known as HARPS - a piece of equipment attached to a telescope that is able to separate different frequencies of light for analysis. 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 [1]. The image below shows the habitable zone calculations for an A-type star (a star much more luminous than Sol), a sun-like star, and an M-class star (red dwarf).

But the star system this new planet is orbiting, called Ross 128, is much quieter, giving hope it could provide a suitable habit for life.

But unlike those stars, Ross 128, about 11 light-years from Earth, appears to be a quiet, well-behaved star, without the violent eruptions of radiation that might wipe out any beginnings of life before they had a chance to take hold on the planet. Other red dwarfs, like Proxima Centauri - the star that Proxima b orbits - have a tendency to lash out at their planets with deadly flares of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. 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.

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.

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This bodes well for Ross 128 b. Dubbed Ross 128 b, the newfound world is about 11 light-years from our solar system, in the constellation Virgo. Scientists say a planet needs temperatures between -60°C and +20°C to be considered temperate.

Just being in the habitable zone, however, doesn't guarantee Ross 128 b is actually habitable. The planet is believed to border the so-called habitable zone.

If the newly discovered planet were the same distance from the red dwarf as Earth is from the sun, it would be frigid. After taking 116 measurements with HARPS, the team was able to conclude that an Earth-sized planet was orbiting around the star.

Although it is now 11 light-years from Earth, Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbor in just 79,000 years. "It is common that stars harbor more than a single planet", Astudillo-Defru told Futurism.

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. The closest is Proxima b, located around Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light-years from Earth.

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