Nearby planet 'could host alien life' - and it's moving towards Earth

16 November, 2017, 01:41 | Author: Becky Perry
  • This artist's impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background. This planet which lies only 11 light-years from Earth was found by a team using ESO's unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument. The new world

The European Southern Observatory has just discovered the second-closest temperate planet to our solar system, and it might have a better chance of hosting life than the closest exoplanet. In just 79,000 years, Ross 128 b will be closer to us than Proxima b.

A newly discovered planet orbiting a nearby star could be the closest world to Earth that offers a comfortable home for life.

The astronomers don't yet know whether Ross 128 b is in the habitable zone of its star, but it's likely, given what they understand about red dwarfs and the planets that orbit them. The planet, named Ross 128 b, has a predicted temperature range that could allow liquid water to exist on the surface.

They must find oxygen to figure out if it could be a good host planet for human colonisation or whether life already exists there. The planet, known as Ross 128b, may have surface temperatures amenable to life as we know it, the researchers announced in a new study that will appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Such a tight orbit would render Ross 128b uninhabitable in our own solar system.

Scientists have discovered an Earth-like exoplanet around the star Ross 128, which can be found (marked with a red circle) in the constellation Virgo. 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.

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

Artist's impression of the planet Ross 128 b.

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The exoplanet around Ross 128 orbits about 20 times closer to its host star than the Earth to the sun, making a trip around the star every 9.9 days.

Dr Bonfils said it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the 'closest known comfortable abode for possible life'. For now, the team will be searching for other nearby planets just like Ross 128b within a distance of sixteen light years away.

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.

The obvious things are that the planet is roughly the same size as ours, and might have a similar climate. That's a red dwarf - a type of sun that offers hope to scientists looking for exoplanets, but comes with some caveats.

There's still uncertainty about whether Ross 128 b is within the habitable zone, but scientists say that with temperatures of between -60 and +20°C, it can be considered temperate.

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

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.

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