Scientists discover 'nearby' Earth-like planet that could potentially support life

Nearby exoplanet is a target for life

Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet in the same solar system where "alien signals" were detected earlier this year.

It's the closest temperate planet to be discovered after Proxima b, which is about 4 light-years away.

Ross 128 b is the second closest known exo-Earth (after Proxima Centauri b, which is just over four light-years distant), and it's the closest temperate planet known around a quiet 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.

They must find oxygen to figure out if it could be a good host planet for human colonisation or whether life already exists there.

The Earth-sized world is estimated to have a temperate climate, with surface temperatures that may also be close to Earth. In our own solar system, it's the area roughly between the orbits of Venus and Mars.

If the newly discovered planet were the same distance from the red dwarf as Earth is from the sun, it would be frigid. Those wobbles shift stars' spectrums, and by tracking these shifts, HARPS can infer planets are present. "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).

Proxima B Planet, Orbiting Proxima Centauri, a Red Dwarf Star. The blasts of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation can rip away a nearby exoplanet's atmosphere and limit the possibility for alien life. The system is moving toward Earth, and in just 79,000 years, it will be the closest exoplanet to our solar system. Ross 128 on the other hand is thought to be relatively inactive, and so may not pose as great a threat to Ross 128 b as Proxima Centauri does to Proxima b. It's actually easier to detect exoplanets around red dwarfs because the stars are much fainter (none are visible with the naked eye from Earth) and thus don't wash out their surroundings as drastically.

Dr Bonfils said it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the 'closest known comfortable abode for possible life'. That's a red dwarf - a type of sun that offers hope to scientists looking for exoplanets, but comes with some caveats.

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

When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some odd, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128. Both will be able to examine worlds like Ross 128 b in new detail, offering new insights into Earth-size exoplanets like never before. The world, which is about one-and-a-half times the mass of Earth, may be in the star's habitable zone, too.

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