Newly discovered planet could be home to alien life

Temperate Earth-mass exoplanet discovered 11 light-years away

Earth-Like Exoplanet Discovered Around Nearby Star Is Potentially Habitable

None of this would be particularly interesting or notable - considering we've now seen dozens of planets that are thought to be in the habitable zones of their stars - if not for the fact that Ross 128 and its habitable exoplanet are incredibly close to our own Solar System.

Ross 128, the star around which exoplanet Ross 128 b orbits, is also a red dwarf star - but it's not such an active one.

Ross 128b orbits its host star at the right distance, which makes the astronomers believe there could be liquid water on it if its atmospheric conditions are suitable. Gas giants like Jupiter or baked, dead planets like Mercury that orbit too close to a powerful star don't provide the right circumstances for life to develop - but clearly, Earth does.

As a result, b's equilibrium temperature is estimated to lie between minus 60 and 20 degrees Celsius, 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.

Though Ross 128b is an exoplanet present in close proximity - 11 lightyears away - and has the potential to host life, it's not the only one spotted this year, Bonfils explained.

The newly discovered planet is called Ross 128b. This planet, which lies only 11 light-years from Earth, was found by a team using ESO's unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument.

However, the star around which the planet revolves is also 280 times less luminous than the Sun.

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The exoplanet was detected using HARPS, which employs the radial velocity method to search for exoplanets. Astronomers will need to study the planet's atmosphere in order to get any definite information, and they won't be able to do that until 2025 when the European Southern Observatory's Extremely Large Telescope, a much more powerful instrument than anything that we have now, begins working.

Some Red Dwarf stars throw flares that bathe orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and x-ray radiation, but Ross 128 is a quiet star meaning the planets orbiting it are the closest known that could support life.

"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, of Geneva Observatory, University of Geneva, and a coauthor of the paper, in a press release.

Ross 128b isn't the closest candidate for the search of alien life.

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. Its surface temperature ranges from -60º C to 20º C, which is the average range of temperatures at Vostok, Antarctica; the numbers are conducive to the presence of liquid water on the surface.

[1] A planet orbiting close to a low-mass red dwarf star has a larger gravitational effect on the star than a similar planet orbiting further out from a more massive star like the Sun.

[3] This is only possible for the very few exoplanets that are close enough to be angularly resolved from their stars.

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