Newfound Earth-like exoplanet a good spot to hunt for aliens

Wednesday, 15 Nov, 2017

Ross 128 is the "quietest" nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet and its newly discovered companion - which orbits its host star in only 9.9 days - is the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after the discovery of Proxima b past year. The European Southern Observatory announced the planet's discovery on Wednesday, saying it would further investigate the world, looking for signs of biological activity and life-supporting conditions, using its Extremely Large Telescope in Chile. Ross 128 appears at the center of the picture.

Announcements about exoplanets, those found outside our solar system, seem nearly commonplace in this golden age of discovery for astronomers.

"Meanwhile, it is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet rather than as a habitable zone planet", the authors wrote.

Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin This image shows the sky around the red dwarf star Ross 128 in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). However, Ross 128 b is the "quietest" nearby star to host a temperate exoplanet.

"This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques".

A new exoplanet has been discovered that is roughly the same size as Earth and could have a surface temperature similar to our own. Even Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system, is 36 million miles from the sun.

The magnitude of the wobbles indicates that the planet is at least 1.35 times the mass of Earth but could easily be twice the mass of Earth. Interestingly, in June, astronomers detected mysterious signals coming from Ross 128. Other red dwarfs, like Proxima Centauri - the star that Proxima b orbits - have a tendency to lash out at their planets with deadly flares of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

Radiation is likely much less of an issue for Ross 128b, because its parent star is not an active flarer, said discovery team leader Xavier Bonfils, of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble and the University of Grenoble Alpes in France.

But Ross 128 doesn't seem to be doing this, so it's considered "quieter", which means the planet is a more comfortable place for life to form without being subjected to such violent episodes from time to time.

When this eventually happens, Ross 128 b will usurp Proxima b's position as the Earth's closest exoplanet. The scientists still have to constrain where that habitable zone lies to figure out if Ross 128 b rests inside it. "They list all the close encounters with other stars, and because of the relative movements of stars and the Sun, it results that Ross 128 will be our closest star".

Scientists say that Ross 128 is slowly moving closer toward our Solar System and is expected to become our "nearest stellar neighbour in just 79,000 years - a blink of the eye in cosmic terms".

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