New earth-like planet found 11 light years from our solar system

Delia Watkins
November 16, 2017

Although it is now 11 light-years from Earth, Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbor in just 79,000 years.

Vladimir Airapetian, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., questioned whether Ross 128 would be such a benign star. "Despite this proximity, Ross 128 b receives only 1.38 times more irradiation than the Earth", the ESO writes.

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

Scientists still aren't quite sure what the planet's surface looks like, or whether there is liquid water present. Depending on the star's temperature, this region changes.

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

Astronomers are planning to use cutting-edge, next-generation observatories to search for evidence of biological life in the atmospheres of select Earth-sized, temperate exoplanets orbiting red dwarf stars.

Ross 128 b falls into this scenario.

The planet orbits the star once every 9.9 days, meaning that its day and night cycles are approximately 10 times longer than they are on Earth. That plausibly puts it in the habitable zone, but scientists can't yet pin down its vital signs with certainty. "This means that one side of the planet would always be day, and the other side would be plunged in eternal night". Neither condition is conducive to life.

European scientists found Ross 128 b using HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher. It also orbits an older star that has probably settled down somewhat. An exoplanet is simply a planet that orbits a star that's not our sun.

Conditions on the closest exoplanet to Earth that sits in a habitable zone, Proxima Centauri b, are likely to be far less pleasant.

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

Red dwarfs are some of the coolest, faintest - and most common - stars in the universe. The star may have been more turbulent in its youth. Unlike most exoplanet discoveries, Ross 128 b was not detected during a transit when the planet moves in front of the host star from our perspective, allowing astronomers to detect the reduction in light from the star.

Red dwarfs are also a frequent target for SETI searches, mostly due to their prevalence.

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.

Often, red dwarfs release periodic flares.

Earlier this year, scientists said that they had received odd pulses coming from the star. The signals had a frequency around 5 gigahertz, right in the middle of the 1-to-15-gigahertz range targeted by typical SETI searches.

Maybe. This is the plucky star's second time in the spotlight this year.

None of the telescopes heard anything. His team plans to continue observing the system. The blasts of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation can rip away a nearby exoplanet's atmosphere and limit the possibility for alien life.

They include the ESO's 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope under construction in Chile which is due to begin operating in 2024. One of the problems with our data, however, has been that it's much easier to find large gas giants or huge rocky worlds than it is to find Earth-like planets.

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