Sci-tech

Scientists discover Earth-sized planet that 'could potentially sustain life'

Scientists discover Earth-sized planet that 'could potentially sustain life'

Today scientists announced the discovery of a planet that is near the size of Earth rotating around a small red star only about 11 light years away.

Ross 128 is the "quietest" nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet and its newly discovered companion - which orbits its host star in only 9.9 days - is the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after the discovery of Proxima b past year. The organization discovered the planet, named Ross 128b, orbiting a star within the constellation of Virgo. But while scientists do believe that it is, in fact, a temperate planet, there's still no confirmation that it lies within the habitable zone, which is the zone surrounding a star in which liquid water is able to exist.

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. The team says that in about 79,000 years Ross 128 will be our nearest stellar neighbor, making Ross 128b the nearest exoplanet. The wobbles are caused by the gravitational pull of the unseen planet. "Only HARPS has demonstrated accuracy and remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it started operating", said study co-author Dr Nicola Astudillo-Defru, from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, as quoted by Daily Mail, Wednesday (11/15/2017).

The question "are we alone in the universe?" has bewildered mankind for eons as the search for alien life thus far has yielded no results.

The only closer temperate planet is Proxima b, whose star, another red dwarf, bombards it with ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, possibly rendering it uninhabitable.

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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.

Proxima b, the closest temperate exoplanet to us, orbits just such an active star. However, Ross 128 is a particularly calm and cool dwarf star, only about 20 percent the diameter of the sun with a little more than half the sun's surface temperature. Ross 128 appears at the centre of the picture.

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

Within the next 10 years, a new generation of ultra-powerful telescopes will start studying the atmospheres of exoplanets looking for signs of life, such as oxygen. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable". "For now, we will continue to monitor the star to search for evidence of additional companions". The star may have been more turbulent in its youth.

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


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