New Earth-like planet has temperatures favourable to life

16 November, 2017, 01:39 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • NewsScienceEarth-like planet ‘may be the closest known comfortable abode for possible life’Joe Mellor

Astronomers found Ross 128 b using the ESO's High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher - also known as HARPS - a piece of equipment attached to a telescope that is able to separate different frequencies of light for analysis.

While Ross 128 b shares two very important characteristics with Earth, little else about it is familiar to us. Those wobbles shift stars' spectrums, and by tracking these shifts, HARPS can infer planets are present. That makes the possibility of life there less likely than on Ross 128 b, according to researchers. Dubbed Ross 128 b, the newfound world is about 11 light-years from our solar system, in the constellation Virgo. It was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

They're not flawless though as they can intermittently give off vast solar flares that will bathe everything in its path in deadly radiation.

The exoplanet around Ross 128 orbits about 20 times closer to its host star than the Earth to the sun, making a trip around the star every 9.9 days.

While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a moderately temperate planet, uncertainty persists as to whether the planet is inside, outside, or at the top of a habitable zone, where liquid water exists on the surface of the planet. In addition, it's the closest planet to have been observed orbiting an inactive red dwarf star - an arrangement that may raise the likelihood that it could sustain life. In just 79,000 years, Ross 128 b will be closer to us than Proxima b. That's why they're sticking to calling the planet "temperate" for now, until they can determine whether it's actually within a habitable zone or just on the cusp. This planet, which lies only 11 light-years from Earth, was found by a team using ESO's planet-hunting HARPS instrument.

Astronomers have in the past couple of decades discovered an abundance of star-hugging planets, far different from anything in our solar system.

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background
This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background

Astronomers still don't know what the atmosphere of Ross 128 b is like, and therefore don't know if its surface temperature is comfortable enough to support life.

You may want to get used to the name Ross 128 b.

In May, Abel Méndez, an associate professor of physics and astrobiology at the University of Puerto Rico, led a campaign at Arecibo Observatory to examine radio emissions coming from several nearby red dwarf stars. "It is common that stars harbor more than a single planet", Astudillo-Defru told Futurism.

Earlier this year, by the way, radio astronomers detected a unusual signal that seemed to be emanating from Ross 128. "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". Notably, this planet has a mass that is similar to Earth's.

They include the ESO's 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope under construction in Chile which is due to begin operating in 2024.

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