Newly discovered nearby planet could support life

Enlarge  Artist’s impression of the planet Ross 128

Enlarge Artist’s impression of the planet Ross 128

Astronomers have discovered a new, relatively nearby exoplanet that could be capable of supporting life.

Every 9.9 days, Ross 128 b orbits a red dwarf star known as Ross 128.

In other words, the planet makes the star wobble as it rotates, astronomers were able to measure the wobble with HARPS, and that measurement revealed some key information about the planet, such as its mass and how far away it is from the host star. The team behind the new discovery is not certain that Ross 128 b orbits within the habitable zone of its star - the region of space in which a planet receives the correct amount of radiation to allow liquid water to exist on its surface.

Though both Ross 128 and Proxima Centauri are red dwarfs - the most common type of star in the Milky Way galaxy - they are very different objects.

The U.S. space agency says that discoveries like Ross 128 b are how it plans to answer the question regarding if there is another Earth out there?

Astronomers say that increases the chances it could sustain life.

A newly discovered star, known as Ross 128 b, has been held up as our most likely neighbour that could support life.

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Two things to keep in mind: We don't know yet if Ross 128b has an atmosphere or, if it has one, whether that atmosphere has the proper composition to support life as we know it.

In the new research, astronomers discuss another reason to believe that life might be more likely to exist on Ross 128 b.

Although it is now 11 light-years from Earth, he said Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in "just" 79,000 years - a blink of the eye in cosmic terms. Ross 128 appears at the centre of the picture. As astronomers paid more attention, they began realizing that Proxima Centauri, like many red dwarfs, was probably incredibly active in its youth, spewing intense amounts of stellar radiation that would have nearly certainly bludgeoned the small planet. The star is also quiet, meaning no radiation flare-ups. 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.

"Proxima Centauri is particularly active, with frequent, powerful flares that may sterilize (if not stripped out) its atmosphere", lead author Xavier Bonfils of Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble told Futurism via email.

Bonfils and his team spent about a decade monitoring this red dwarf, called Ross 128, before they figured out a planet was lurking around it. But at 10.89 light years away, this may be the best candidate we've yet found for viable life - and it's parked in our own backyard.

We won't know for sure what kind of atmosphere this planet has until we look at it directly, and that may not happen for a while.

They include the ESO's 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope under construction in Chile which is due to begin operating in 2024. Close inspection reveals that Ross 128 has a odd 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.

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