Scientists Announce Discovery of New Planet That May Support Life

Thursday, 16 Nov, 2017

The European Space Agency has discovered a nearby planet with Earth-like temperatures orbiting a "quiet" star, where the conditions may be favourable enough to support life.

Astronomers spotted the planet using the European Southern Observatory's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) in Chile. 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. That makes the possibility of life there less likely than on Ross 128 b, according to researchers.

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. Despite its close proximity, the alien world receives only 1.38 times more irradiation.

Such a tight orbit would render Ross 128b uninhabitable in our own solar system.

Due to their plentiful nature and the fact that other exoplanets have been found around these types of stars, red dwarfs are being studied and observed with increasing frequency in the hopes of finding more exoplanets.

"We have many instruments coming online to boost the search for planets around similar stars, notably SPIRou at the Canada-France-Hawai-Telescope and NIRPS to complement HARPS at the 3.6m telescope in La Silla", Bonfils told Futurism.

Proxima B Planet, Orbiting Proxima Centauri, a Red Dwarf Star.

There's a new place to look for life in the universe. "As a result, Ross 128 b's equilibrium temperature is estimated to lie between -60 and 20degC, thanks to the cool and faint nature of its small red dwarf host star, which has just over half the surface temperature of the Sun".

Ross 128 b has numerous hallmarks that make for a promising target in the search for extraterrestrial life as it shares many similarities to Earth, the only world on which life is known to exist. Ross 128 b could change this, because the planet and its star are moving toward us.

Ross 128 is travelling towards our Sun, which means that Ross 128 b will unseat Proxima b to become Earth's closest exoplanet neighbor in just 79,000 years. An exoplanet is any planet not in our solar system. Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets. Both will be able to examine worlds like Ross 128 b in new detail, offering new insights into Earth-size exoplanets like never before.

Such megascopes should be able to resolve Ross 128b and even search its atmosphere for oxygen, methane, and other possible signs of life, Bonfils said.

Maybe. This is the plucky star's second time in the spotlight this year. Nevertheless, the announcement is just one more reason to get excited about new observatories like the Giant Magellan Telescope and Europe's Extremely Large Telescope.

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