Newly Found Exoplanet Could Be the Best Bet Yet for Hosting Life

Nearby exoplanet is a target for life

But what's remarkable about Ross 128 is that it is especially calm and comfortable - it doesn't seem to be given to such outbursts, meaning that the chance of supporting life on the planet is vastly increased.

The planet, known as Ross 128 b, is located a mere 11 light-years from Earth, and will one day become the closest exoplanet to our Sun, dethroning our current immediate neighbor exoplanet - Proxima b. However, Ross 128 is moving toward us, and it will become the closest star to the sun in just 79,000 years, towing the planet Ross 128 b along with it. In addition, it's the closest planet to have been observed orbiting an inactive red dwarf star - an arrangement that may raise the likelihood that it could sustain life.

The astronomers don't yet know whether Ross 128 b is in the habitable zone of its star, but it's likely, given what they understand about red dwarfs and the planets that orbit them.

A star's habitable zone is the region where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface.

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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 planet is also roughly the same size as Earth.

Such a tight orbit would render Ross 128b uninhabitable in our own solar system. This is because the red dwarf is much smaller and cooler than our star. "With radial velocity we are able to detect the periodic stellar wobble produced by the planet (gravitational interaction), so we do not require a transit to make the detection".

"This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques", Nicola Astudillo-Defru, astronomer at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said in a news release.

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Humanity will also get an increasingly better view of Ross 128 b. The blasts of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation can rip away a nearby exoplanet's atmosphere and limit the possibility for alien life. For that reason, the scientists refer to Ross 128 b as "the best temperate planet known to date". Although that means it is much closer to the star than Earth is to the sun - in fact, the scientists' study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics says it is about 20 times closer - a red dwarf emits significantly less heat, so the planet is able to hover closer than ours does without getting scorched. Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets. The world, which is about one-and-a-half times the mass of Earth, may be in the star's habitable zone, too.

Because the planet is so low-mass, the researchers are pretty sure that it's rocky like Earth.

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

Earlier this year, scientists said that they had received unusual pulses coming from the star.

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