Newly discovered Earth-like planet could support life

16 November, 2017, 02:28 | Author: Grady King
  • Ross 128 b a world orbiting its host star just 11 light-years from Earth is seen here in this artist's expression

According to the press release, Ross 128 b is "also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which may increase the likelihood that this planet could potentially sustain life". This reduces any chance of habitability, which is believed to be the case with Proxima b. This common class of star is smaller and redder than our sun, and its relative dimness and size makes it a favored target of astronomers looking for exoplanets. But the possibility that the exoplanet is habitable has excited some scientists involved in the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life (SETI). Ross 128 is the "quietest" nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet.

As a result, Ross 128 b's equilibrium temperature is estimated to lie between -60 and 20°C, thanks to the cool and faint nature of its small red dwarf host star, which has just over half the surface temperature of the Sun.

"Proxima Centauri is particularly active, with frequent, powerful flares that may sterilize (if not strip out) its atmosphere", Bonfils said.

The sky around the red dwarf star Ross 128

They're not ideal though as they can intermittently give off vast solar flares that will bathe everything in its path in deadly radiation. Exoplanets discovered by HARPS can then be examined in further detail by other instruments and observatories, including the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which is expected to achieve first light in 2024.

The problem with M dwarfs is that many, such as Trappist-1 and Proxima Centauri, have a nasty habit of sending out big flares that could erode the atmospheres of orbiting planets. But for cooler stars, even a close-orbiting planet could harbor water.

Because the planet is so low-mass, the researchers are pretty sure that it's rocky like Earth.

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Ross 128b is 2.6 times more distant from Earth than Proxima b, the potentially habitable planet found in the nearest solar system to the sun.

The newly discovered exoplanet orbits its star 20 times closer than Earth orbits the sun. That means the planet may have a surface temperature similar to Earth. "Depending on its composition and the reflectivity of its clouds, the exoplanet may be life friendly with liquid water as the Earth, or sterile like Venus".

"We still need to know what the atmosphere of Ross 128 b is like", co-discoverer Nicola Astudillo-Defru told BBC News.

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When the ELT comes online, "It shall provide both the collecting power and the angular resolution to observe Ross 128 b directly".

An artist's rendering of the E-ELT, based on the telescope's construction design.

We might just have spotted our new home - or someone else's. "But today it would probably not experience as much irradiation", Bonfils said. If so, that could prevent the planet from overheating. The wobbles are caused by the gravitational pull of the unseen planet. But Ross 128 is rather quiet, suggesting conditions on Ross 128b are potentially peaceful enough for life to emerge. If we have, it'll not only offer the potential to see what another planet like our own looks like - but potentially to meet the aliens that live there, or to move there ourselves.

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