NASA says another Earth-sized planet has been discovered 'in habitable zone'

Cesar Mills
November 16, 2017

A temperate planet has been discovered only 11 light-years from Earth by a team using ESO's unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument.

An artist's impression of exoplanet Ross 128 b, with its red-dwarf parent star in the background. 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.

Proxima B Planet, Orbiting Proxima Centauri, a Red Dwarf Star. HARPS, which is attached to a 3.6-meter telescope at Chile's La Silla Observatory, works by splitting starlight into its component wavelengths.

More observation on Ross 128 b is needed to know whether there is water present (one of the building blocks of life), but it is close enough to Ross 128 that it could have the prerequisite warmth for water to exist.

He said Ross 128b will by then take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth. Our planetary search techniques rely on measuring variations in gravity or a star's apparent magnitude as a planet transits across it, and smaller planets are much harder to find with these methods. "However, it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the closest known comfortable abode for possible life", ESO scientists said in the press release. But at 10.89 light years away, this may be the best candidate we've yet found for viable life - and it's parked in our own backyard.

An worldwide team of astronomers has discovered a temperate Earth-sized world with the potential to harbor alien life. NASA explains that while Ross 128 b and Proxima b are in the habitable zone and seem similar to Earth, Venus and Mars would feature numerous same qualities from 11 light years away.

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"Stellar activity is probably the highest concern regarding the emergence of life, and even the survival of an atmosphere, on planets orbiting M dwarfs", the paper reads. Earlier this year, Ross 128 made headlines because it appeared to be sending out a semi-repeating radio signal. "For now we will continue to monitor the star to search for additional companions", wrote Astudillo-Defru. "In the meantime, we need to better constrain theoretical models to elucidate if liquid water can be found on Ross 128 b's surface".

If the newly discovered planet were the same distance from the red dwarf as Earth is from the sun, it would be frigid.

The big question: Is Ross 128 b habitable? Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets.

More exoplanets are being discovered by astronomers due in part to tools like HARP and ESO's Extremely Large Telescope.

When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some unusual, 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.

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