Nearby Earth-size planet may have conditions for life

Oscar Cross
November 16, 2017

The presence of liquid water on ancient Earth is considered to be one of the cornerstones of the evolution of life on our planet, and so if Ross 128 b were unable to host liquid water on its surface, it would be damning to the exoplanet's chances of hosting life.

Forget Mars, scientists have discovered a new Earth-sized, possibly habitable, planet just eleven light years away.

If scientists are able to detect atmospheric biomarkers, we might have new next-door neighbors in just a bit-the Ross 128 red dwarf is moving towards Earth and will become the nearest star to us in 79,000 years.

The discovery was made after over a decade of "intensive monitoring" using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument, a high-contrast imaging and high-dispersion spectrograph, installed on the the ESO 3.6m telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Additionally, red dwarf "flare" stars like Ross 128 and Proxima Centauri periodically erupt showers of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, which would be harmful to Earth-like lifeforms. Ross 128 b also orbits a red dwarf, but its star is much less active, so the surface of the planet is likely more temperate.

Ross 128b orbits 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun but gets less radiation than Earth. Follow-up observations are needed to determine whether Ross 128 b orbits within or near the habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface.

Nearby exoplanet is a target for life

They must find oxygen to figure out if it could be a good host planet for human colonisation or whether life already exists there. Those wobbles shift stars' spectrums, and by tracking these shifts, HARPS can infer planets are present. Ross 128 on the other hand is thought to be relatively inactive, and so may not pose as great a threat to Ross 128 b as Proxima Centauri does to Proxima b.

A new exoplanet has been discovered that is roughly the same size as Earth and could have a surface temperature similar to our own.

This is one of the reasons that Proxima b could be inhospitable to the evolution of extraterrestrial life.

As for Ross 128 b, Bonfils told Futurism one forthcoming telescope in particular should prove useful for further study. While this world is 1.3 x Earth's mass, it wouldn't feel like Earth - it has a dim, red sun and a year that lasts about 10 days. The temperatures on the planet Ross 128 b could therefore be comparable to those on Earth, estimated at at -60 to 20 degrees Celsius (-76 to 68°F).

For now, the team will be searching for other nearby planets just like Ross 128b within a distance of sixteen light years away. As astronomers paid more attention, they began realizing that Proxima Centauri, like many red dwarfs, was probably incredibly active in its youth, spewing intense amounts of stellar radiation that would have nearly certainly bludgeoned the small planet.

Earlier this year, by the way, radio astronomers detected a odd signal that seemed to be emanating from Ross 128. The instrument has helped discover dozens of exoplanets.

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