European scientists announced today the discovery of a world orbiting nearby star Ross 128. "But Ross 128 b is at least theoretically habitable - and what's more, it's extremely nearby". "Restricting the target list to quiet stars would disqualify Proxima Cen b and leave Ross 128 b as the best temperate planet known to date". But since Ross 128 is less active than Proxima Centauri, it is now "the closest known comfortable adobe for possible life", according to the European Southern Observatory.
And even though Ross 128 b is 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun, the planet could still have a comfortable temperature because red dwarf stars are so much cooler, astronomers say. Together they are the prime targets in the search for life beyond the Earth.
Astronomers calculate that its surface temperature could lie somewhere between -60° and 20°, making it temperate and possibly capable of supporting oceans, and life.
Often, red dwarfs release periodic flares. "Depending on its composition and the reflectivity of its clouds, the exoplanet may be life friendly with liquid water as the Earth, or sterile like Venus".
It therefore falls into the so called "Goldilocks zone" - a planet that is neither too close nor too far from a star, but just close enough to sustain liquid water.
To find Ross 128 b, the team had to sift through more than 10 years' worth of data from a Chile-based instrument called the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, plus similar data from two other long-term studies. "It is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet", wrote the study's authors. By contrast, Ross 128 is a quiescent red dwarf that is not subject to such fierce outbursts.
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. As most exoplanets are too distant and too dim to be seen directly, HARPS looks for the telltale signature of a small world orbiting a star.
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet in the same solar system where "alien signals" were detected earlier this year. Planets close to most red dwarfs are likely to be severely irradiated, causing many scientists to doubt that life could survive on them regardless of whether they're in the habitable zone. Considering the oldest human remains are thought to be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years old, it's not insane to think our species could still be roaming the Earth when Ross 128 b becomes the closest exoplanet to our home world. "And then, the ELT will provide the opportunity to observe and characterise a large fraction of these planets", concludes Xavier Bonfils. Despite its close proximity, the alien world receives only 1.38 times more irradiation.
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