May 23, 2018

Newly discovered Earth-sized planet found orbiting quiet, nearby star

16 November 2017, 01:40 | Camille Rivera

Nearby exoplanet is a target for life

This artist's concept appeared on the Feb. 23 2017 cover of the journal Nature announcing that the TRAPPIST-1 star has seven Earth-size planets orbiting

Today, however, scientists have announced the location of a relatively nearby planet that may be the best candidate we've ever found for supporting life.

The planet, dubbed Ross 128 b, is 11 light-years away, making it the second-closest known exoplanet to Earth. In just 79,000 years, Ross 128 b will be closer to us than Proxima b.

Meet Ross 128 b, a newly discovered planet found orbiting around a small, faint star known as a red dwarf. But Proxima b's parent star, Proxima Centauri, blasts out a lot of powerful flares, potentially bathing that planet in enough radiation to stunt the emergence and evolution of life, scientists have said.

"The presence of a planet in Ross 128 is a fortunate result for our research and we plan to continue observing this star", he told International Business Times.

What remains unclear, according to the study, is whether the exoplanet is within the star's habitable zone, the orbital range at which it is possible for liquid water to exist on a planet's 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. Then came the seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting TRAPPIST-1, a star 39 light-years away, three of which are in the habitable zone.

Such a tight orbit would render Ross 128b uninhabitable in our own solar system. Where the habitable zone is depends on the star itself: red dwarfs are dimmer and therefore cooler than the Sun, so their habitable zones are shifted closer in than the equivalent zone around our star. The High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) looks for tiny wobbles in a star's motion caused by the gravitational tug-of-war between the star and its planets.

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.

"With the data from HARPS, the team found that Ross 128 b orbits 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun".

"We are thus confident that Ross 128 b is a rocky planet", he said. 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. Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets. Notably, this planet has a mass that is similar to Earth's.

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. The signals didn't appear to be local interference, since observations made of other stars by Arecibo around the same time didn't see the signal.

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