Newly discovered nearby planet could support life

11_15_ross128b_exoplanet

11_15_ross128b_exoplanet

Although Ross 128b is now 11 light years away, it is moving in Earth's direction.

Located just 11 light-years away, Ross 128 b is a temperate planet that orbits a 'quiet star, ' which gets its name from the fact that it doesn't spew out life-threatening bursts of radiation. Even so, due to a variety of factors Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86.

"Usually stars that rotate fast are active; stars that rotate slowly - particularly, slower than 100 days - tend to be very quiet, so no flares, weak winds", Xavier Bonfils, an astronomer at the Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble and lead author of the paper to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, told CBC News.

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 planet, dubbed Ross 128 b, is slightly farther away than the closest Earth-like planet, but conditions there are believed to be significantly more stable. It should become our nearest neighbor in only 71,000 years, a blink of an eye in space time.

However, astronomers will have to find something truly unexpected to top Ross 128 b and Proxima Centauri b.

In addition, astronomers describe the star as "quiet", meaning it's unlikely to emit flares that could severely harm or outright decimate life on a planet.

More observation on Ross 128 b is needed to know whether there is water present (one of the building blocks of life), but it is close enough to Ross 128 that it could have the prerequisite warmth for water to exist.

Ross 128 is more like a 30-something with a good job, a membership in a yoga studio, and an extensive collection of James Taylor albums.

"I plan to continue searching for new worlds, specially around Ross 128 because it is likely that there are more planets", Astudillo-Defru said.

The planet was discovered by a team of astronomers in Chile, using the La Silla Observatory's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher.

While researchers have expressed excitement over the discovery, the ESO notes: "Uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet's surface".

Ross 128 b location This chart shows the location of Ross 128 b near the constellation Virgo, circled in red at center-right.

"This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art. data-analysis techniques", co-author Nicola Astudillo-Defru said in a statement.

That's true even of Ross 128 b.

Since it first started hunting the skies, Kepler has found a staggering 4,034 new planets, of which 2,335 have been verified as exoplanets.

The planet has been able to achieve its temperate climate because it orbits an inactive red dwarf star.

"And then, the ELT will provide the opportunity to observe and characterise a large fraction of these planets".

Consequently, it is expected to have a surface temperature close to that on Earth.

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