Science

Newly discovered planet could be home to alien life

Newly discovered planet could be home to alien life

There is only one planet closer - Proxima b, just four light years away from Earth.

One of the most interesting facts about Ross 128 b is that it is orbiting an inactive red dwarf star. 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.

The planet is around one and a half times the size of Earth, and researchers are obtaining proof that the planet is most likely rocky like Earth. Red dwarfs are low-mass stars that are smaller than our own Sun, but depending on the distance at which their planets are orbiting, can still provide the conditions we associate with the development of life. Red Dwarf stars are some of the coolest, faintest, and most common stars in the Universe. The name doesn't make it sound like anything special and it's still far too soon to tell, but Ross 128 b might be the nearest planet that supports life.

But science's latest discovery may give new hope on that front -and it could be closer than you think.

The planet lies 11 light-years away, which makes it the second closest potentially habitable planet to Earth.




"The discovery is special because it confirms what astronomers have been finding for the past few years - that most stars in the night sky have their own worlds orbiting them and that a large fraction, about one in five, have an "earth-like" planet", says Prof. Dr.

"This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques", said Nicola Astudillo- Defru from University of Geneva in Switzerland.

The exoplanet was detected using HARPS, which employs the radial velocity method to search for exoplanets. Other red dwarfs "are subject to flares that occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation", according to a press release from the European Southern Observatory. Then, Ross 128 b will also replace Proxima Centauri's exoplanet, Proxima b, as our closest exoplanet and our closest potentially-habitable exoplanet. The host star, however, is 280 less luminous than the Solar System's sun so Ross 128 b only gets about 40 percent more light than Earth.

Astronomers are now detecting more and more temperate exoplanets, and the next stage will be to study their atmospheres, composition and chemistry in more detail. Ross 128 b will be a target for the ESO Extremely Large Telescope and scientists will try and find biomarkers in the atmosphere of the planet using that instrument. Argument remains of whether the exoplanet might be in the habitable zone where liquid water could exist on its surface. In particular, NIRPS, the infrared arm of HARPS, will boost our efficiency in observing red dwarfs, which emit most of their radiation in the infrared. It is possibly in the habitable zone, the spot where the the temperature is just right to allow liquid water to pool on its surface.


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