Close-by Exoplanet May Support Alien Life, Looks Just Like Earth

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 - 11:08AM
Astronomy
Alien Life
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 - 11:08AM
Close-by Exoplanet May Support Alien Life, Looks Just Like Earth
Image credit: NASA
A newly discovered nearby exoplanet that looks surprisingly like Earth may be the best chance for discovering alien life we've ever found. 

The words "new exoplanet discovered" are seen often in science news reports because scientists have found a lot of them over the years.

NASA's exoplanet archive contains 3,550 confirmed exoplanets (out of 4,496 candidates) so news of another one is usually not that exciting, but there is a newly discovered exoplanet is piquing a lot of people's interest because of its resemblance to Earth and its relatively close proximity to our solar system.

A team of researchers using the European Southern Observatory's HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument in Chile discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting the red dwarf star, Ross 128, that is only 11 light years away and moving closer.

Designated Ross 128 b, the exoplanet is the second closest temperate planet to our solar system after Proxima b, which was discovered last year.

Ross 128 b orbits Ross 128 approximately 20 times closer than Earth orbits the Sun, but the amount of radiation it receives is not significantly higher (only 1.38 times), which scientists believe gives the planet a temperature range between -76 F and 68 F.



In terms of the hunt for life, Ross 128 b has a leg up on Proxima b because its parent star is "quieter" than the Proxima Centauri.

"Proxima Centauri is particularly active, with frequent, powerful flares that may sterilize (if not stripped out) its atmosphere," lead author Xavier Bonfils told Futurism. "Ross 128 is one of the quietest stars of our sample, and although it is a little further away from us, it makes for an excellent alternative target."

A big question that remains for researchers, according to the ESO report, is whether or not Ross 128 b "lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet's surface."

Co-author Nicola Astudillo-Defru said that "Ten years from now, we will be capable, thanks to giant telescopes, to directly 'see' the planet and characterize its atmosphere...In the meantime, we need to better constrain theoretical models to elucidate if liquid water can be found on Ross 128 b's surface."

Two promising planets discovered a year apart is pretty amazing.

At this rate, there's no telling how many Earth-like exoplanets will be found in the next decade, or how many of them will be capable of sustaining life.
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Close-by Exoplanet May Support Life—And It's Earth's Twin
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