Scientists found a new Earth-sized planet nearby…and it might be habitable

Posted November 16, 2017

On Wednesday, a team of European scientists announced the discovery of an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting a star just 11 light-years away.

Scientists have come across a new exoplanet, which is capable of supporting life forms, theoretically, informed the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Other stars, such as the nearby Proxima Centauri, which also has an Earth-like planet orbiting it, have a tendency to spit out intense flares that contain deadly ultraviolet radiation and X-rays and that could erode planets' atmospheres.

The properties of this newly discovered planet - called Ross 128 b - make it a target in the search for life elsewhere in the cosmos. However, Bonfils stressed that "it's not the only potentially habitable planet we've detect this year - just the closest one".

Bonfils said Ross 128 appears to be at least 5 billion years old - older than our solar system - and perhaps as old as 10 billion years. Ross 128 b is 20 times closer to its star than Earth, taking a mere 9.9 days to complete one orbit.

Such conditions could potentially support liquid water, indispensable to life as we know it.

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"HARPS is a spectrograph specially created to measure the radial velocity of the stars", Nicola Astudillo-Defru, an astronomer with the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland and a member of the team that made the discovery, told Popular Mechanics in an e-mail.

"Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations", explains Nicola Astudillo-Defru (Geneva Observatory - University of Geneva, Switzerland), who co-authored the discovery paper. However, Ross 128 b is the "quietest" nearby star to host a temperate exoplanet.

No extraterrestrials have been spotted on Ross 128 b, nor even any alien germs.

The problem, unfortunately, was that the relationship between Proxima Centauri and Proxima b wasn't the most serene.

There's a new place to look for life in the universe. "Ross 128 is one of the quietest stars of our sample and, although it is a little further away from us (2.6x), it makes for an excellent alternative target".

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This artist's impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory had picked up the broadband signals, which were described as semi-periodic pulses, and their mysterious nature got a lot of people excited about the prospect that they were a message from aliens.

The big question: Is Ross 128 b habitable?

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.

Astronomers often talk about a "habitable zone" around a star - it's the range of distances where temperatures allow water to remain liquid on the surface of a planet.

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

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