May 21, 2018

New planet could support life: ESO observatory

16 November 2017, 02:08 | Clyde Nash

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background. ESO M. Kornmesser ESO M. Kornmesser

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background

Astronomers have found an Earth-sized planet with mild temperatures that's also relatively close to our Solar System.

Researchers say Ross 128b could potentially harbour life, as it has a similar mass to that of Earth - a multiple of 1.35 - and "its surface temperature could equally be close to that of Earth".

Astronomers who worked with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) Observer from the European Southern Observatory at the La Silla Observatory in Chile found that the red dwarf Ross 128 is orbited by a low mass exoplanet-planet that orbits star other than the Sun-every 9.9 days. As astronomers paid more attention, they began realizing that Proxima Centauri, like many red dwarfs, was probably incredibly active in its youth, spewing intense amounts of stellar radiation that would have nearly certainly bludgeoned the small planet. Other stars, such as the nearby Proxima Centauri, which also has an Earth-like planet orbiting it, have a tendency to spit out intense flares that contain deadly ultraviolet radiation and X-rays and that could erode planets' atmospheres.

The planet has been able to achieve its temperate climate because it orbits an inactive red dwarf star. Around this period, Ross 128 b will then take over from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth! (That's the spot where temperatures are just right, possibly allowing liquid water to pool on a planet's surface.) Most exciting of all is that this planet is situated just 11 light-years away. However, in "only" 79, 000 years, this will all change as Ross 128 is moving towards us.

Co-discoverer Nicola Astudillo-Defru from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland said the find was the result of more than a decade of intensive monitoring using the Harps instrument. Close inspection reveals that Ross 128 has a odd multiple appearance as this image was created from photographs taken over a more than forty year period by the Digitized Sky Survey 2, and the star, which is only 11 light-years from Earth, moved across the sky significantly during this time.

The problem, unfortunately, was that the relationship between Proxima Centauri and Proxima b wasn't the most serene. Flaring stars can blast nearby planets with lots of radiation, stripping away their atmospheres and making them uninhabitable.

It may seem like an out-of-this-world claim, but if there was ever a place that could support life - whether that be alien or Earthling, sometime in the future - this appears to be it.

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Haven't I heard of Ross 128 before?

Artist's impression of the planet Ross 128 b.

The big question: Is Ross 128 b habitable?

"Meanwhile, it is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet rather than as a habitable zone planet", the authors wrote.

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

Earlier this year, by the way, radio astronomers detected a unusual signal that seemed to be emanating from Ross 128.

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