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Nearby planet is a target for life

15 November 2017

Ross 128 b is the second closest known exo-Earth (after Proxima Centauri b, which is just over four light-years distant), and it's the closest temperate planet known around a quiet star.

Now we welcome a new tantalizing exoplanet to the group, the second closest we know of, also Earth-sized and temperate, orbiting a calm red dwarf star: Ross 128 b. Ross 128 appears at the center of the picture.

The planet was discovered by a team using the ESO's unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument.

"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.

This image shows the sky around the red dwarf star Ross 128 in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin).

Due to their plentiful nature and the fact that other exoplanets have been found around these types of stars, red dwarfs are being studied and observed with increasing frequency in the hopes of finding more exoplanets.

Like Proxima b and the Trappist-1 planets, Ross 128 b's host star is an M dwarf.

A newfound exoplanet may be one of the best bets to host alien life ever discovered - and it's right in Earth's backyard, cosmically speaking. The High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher is based at La Silla Observatory in Chile. When this eventually happens, Ross 128 b will usurp Proxima b's position as the Earth's closest exoplanet.

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An global team of astronomers on Wednesday published a paper (PDF) detailing the planet's discovery in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Study co-author Dr Nicola Astudillo-Defru, of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said ths discovery was huge. Unlike most exoplanet discoveries, Ross 128 b was not detected during a transit when the planet moves in front of the host star from our perspective, allowing astronomers to detect the reduction in light from the star.

Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet in the same solar system where "alien signals" were detected earlier this year. Other red dwarfs, like Proxima Centauri - the star that Proxima b orbits - have a tendency to lash out at their planets with deadly flares of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

"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", the ESO said in a statement.

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.

Scientists say that Ross 128 is slowly moving closer toward our Solar System and is expected to become our "nearest stellar neighbour in just 79,000 years - a blink of the eye in cosmic terms".

The new planet was discovered by an worldwide team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in the high desert of Chile. 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).

Nearby planet is a target for life