Nearby planet 'could host alien life' - and it's moving towards Earth

15 November, 2017, 17:10 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • EnlargeESO

A new Earth-sized planet located only 11 light years away from our Solar System has just been detected by astronomers at the Earth Science Observatory (ESO).

It was discovered by a team of researchers who are using the European Space Agency's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. It shows that Ross 128 b is more massive than the Earth, with at least 1.35 times our planet's bulk.

A red dwarf is a particularly faint & cool star, and astronomers say it is easier to detect Earth-like planets orbiting around them than it is detecting ones that orbit around stars similar to our Sun.

Other notable discoveries of Earth-size exoplanets in recent years, like the TRAPPIST planets and Proxima b, were also found around these types of stars.

The Earth-sized world may have a surface temperature close to that of the Earth.

Ross 128 b will be a prime target for ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which will be able to search for biomarkers in the planet's atmosphere.

Ross 128 is an old, inactive red dwarf star that sits 11 light-years away.

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Scientists have discovered an Earth-like exoplanet around the star Ross 128, which can be found (marked with a red circle) in the constellation Virgo.

"To be involved in such a discovery is very rewarding, and it helps to realize that so much effort is worth it", Nicola Astudillo-Defru, one of the study's co-authors at the University of Geneva's observatory, wrote in an email.

Méndez did not change his analysis in light of the new exoplanet discovery, but he said his group would keep an eye on that area of the sky. As reported by astronomers, its location to the day-star is 20 times closer than Earth. They are also considered to be among the best hopes for supporting life on planets outside our solar system because they exist within the "habitable zones" of their stars, where liquid water could pool on the surface of the planet and potentially support life as we know it.

For other worlds that don't make such a transit, such as Ross 128 b, other methods will have to be employed.

"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. Considering the oldest human remains are thought to be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years old, it's not insane to think our species could still be roaming the Earth when Ross 128 b becomes the closest exoplanet to our home world. Close inspection reveals that Ross 128 has a unusual multiple appearance as this image was created from photographs taken over a more than forty year period by the Digitized Sky Survey 2, and the star, which is only 11 light-years from Earth, moved across the sky significantly during this time.

Finding oxygen in the atmosphere of Ross 128 b - or any other nearby planet - would be a strong indicator that perhaps the world was not just habitable but actually hosted extraterrestrial life.

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