The Exoplanet Ross 128 B Is So Close To Supporting Life We Almost Can't Handle It

Wednesday, 11 July 2018 - 10:26AM
Science News
Wednesday, 11 July 2018 - 10:26AM
The Exoplanet Ross 128 B Is So Close To Supporting Life We Almost Can't Handle It
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NASA/JPL-Caltech
Exciting new evidence has revealed that an exoplanet 11 short light-years away from Earth may have all the qualities necessary to support life.

Discovered just last year orbiting the red dwarf star Ross 128, the planet – named Ross 128 b – showed promise based on its orbit in the habitable zone of the host star and estimates of its mass. Now we have even more reason to believe this could be a second Earth… And we did it by studying the star.

Researchers led by Diogo Souto of Brazil's Observatório Nacional took a closer look at the host star Ross 128 using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey's APOGEE spectroscopic instrument. Measuring its near-infrared light, they were able to determine how much carbon, oxygen, magnesium, aluminum, potassium, calcium, titanium, and iron make up the star.

These observations, in turn, revealed more information about the exoplanet that formed from the star's protoplanetary disc. "Until recently, it was difficult to obtain detailed chemical abundances for this kind of star," Souto explained in a statement.



"The ability of APOGEE to measure near-infrared light, where Ross 128 is brightest, was key for this study," said Johanna Teske of the Carnegie Institute for Science. "It allowed us to address some fundamental questions about Ross 128 b's Earth-like-ness."

According to the analysis, star Ross 128 has iron levels that are similar to our Sun, and the ratio of iron and magnesium in the star suggests that its exoplanet's core is larger than Earth's. Using what they already knew about Ross 128 b's mass, researchers were able to determine the exoplanet's radius; this led them to conclude that it is a rocky planet like Earth rather than a gas giant like Neptune. The team was also able to measure the temperature of Ross 128 and use it (coupled with the radius of Ross 128 b) to determine that the exoplanet likely has a temperate climate: around 70 degrees – roughly the average temperature of Los Angeles.

"It's exciting what we can learn about another planet by determining what the light from its host star tells us about the system's chemistry," said Souto. "Although Ross 128 b is not Earth's twin, and there is still much we don't know about its potential geologic activity, we were able to strengthen the argument that it's a temperate planet that could potentially have liquid water on its surface."

In other words, we're at least one step closer to popping the Champagne for a possible new Earth.

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