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In Earth's Backyard: Newfound Alien Planet May Be Good Bet for Life

15 November 2017

Ross 128 is the "quietest" nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet and its newly discovered companion - which orbits its host star in only 9.9 days - is the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after the discovery of Proxima b previous year. Ross 128 b will by then take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth!

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.

In common with many red dwarf stars, Proxima Centuari is an active star, wracked with enormous stellar flares.

Lead author Dr Xavier Bonfils, of University Grenoble in France, said the planet orbiting a red dwarf star is the "closest known comfortable abode for possible life". It was first cataloged in 1926 by American astronomer Frank Elmore Ross.

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The findings of this research are slated to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

"This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques". It "is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in just 79,000 years - a blink of the eye in cosmic terms". I hope I live to see it.

The newly discovered exoplanet is the second-closest found to our solar system, only 11 light-years away.

Three of the seven planets represent the "holy grail for planet-hunting astronomers", as they are the right temperature to allow alien life to flourish, researchers said.

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According to the ESO, red dwarf stars are some of the "coolest, faintest and most common" stars in the Universe, which make them the best targets for astronomers to search for when hunting potential alien worlds. The planet and star lie a mere 11 light-years from Earth.

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. The temperatures on the planet Ross 128 b could therefore be comparable to those on Earth, estimated at at -60 to 20 degrees Celsius (-76 to 68°F).

Ross 128 b will be a prime target for ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which will be able to search for biomarkers in the planet's atmosphere.

But Ross 128 doesn't seem to be doing this, so it's considered "quieter", which means the planet is a more comfortable place for life to form without being subjected to such violent episodes from time to time. Considering the oldest human remains are thought to be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years old, it's not insane to think our species could still be roaming the Earth when Ross 128 b becomes the closest exoplanet to our home world.

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In Earth's Backyard: Newfound Alien Planet May Be Good Bet for Life