Scientists have suggested exoplanetRoss 128 b, which is only 11 light years away and roughly the same size as Earth, could potentially harbor alien life because it is temperate and its star is relatively calm.
Ross 128b was found with the help of ESO's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument, that is attached to ESO's 3.6 metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, and although the circumstances look favourable, scientists involved in the project are uncertain as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the edge of the habitable zone where liquid water may exist on a planet's surface. As with every other exoplanet we like to call "potentially habitable", there's no indication whether the planet has water on its surface.
Red dwarfs are some of the coolest, faintest - and most common - stars in the Universe.
The only closer temperate planet is Proxima b, whose star, another red dwarf, bombards it with ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, possibly rendering it uninhabitable. Orbiting planets, while tiny, can gravitationally tug on a star, causing the star to shake in its orbit.
The next step is for astronomers to study the atmospheric chemistry of exoplanets like Ross 128 b using powerful new telescopes such as the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which will begin operations within the next few years.
"It seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the closest known comfortable abode for possible life", the ESO wrote in a news release.
For now, the team will be searching for other nearby planets just like Ross 128b within a distance of sixteen light years away. That would be the sun's next door neighbor, Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light-years away.
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Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin This image shows the sky around the red dwarf star Ross 128 in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). After taking 116 measurements with HARPS, the team was able to conclude that an Earth-sized planet was orbiting around the star. Ross 128 b also orbits a red dwarf, but its star is much less active, so the surface of the planet is likely more temperate.
Ross 128b is also the nearest place to Earth that could be hosting life. The star is moving toward us, and will overtake Proxima Centauri as the closest sun to ours in about 79,000 years.
But what has got people especially excited is its star, Ross 128.
So, while Ross 128 b is a potentially habitable world, we haven't found aliens yet. There aren't really any telescopes available right now that can see Ross 128 b directly.
Just being in the habitable zone, however, doesn't guarantee Ross 128 b is actually habitable.
There's still uncertainty about whether Ross 128 b is within the habitable zone, but scientists say that with temperatures of between -60 and +20°C, it can be considered temperate.
Earlier this year, scientists said that they had received odd pulses coming from the star.
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