Scientists Announce Discovery of New Planet That May Support Life

Nov 16, 2017, 02:06
Scientists Announce Discovery of New Planet That May Support Life

A team of researchers just used the European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) to discover a low-mass alien planet - also known as an "exoplanet" - orbiting the red dwarf star Ross 128.

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".

The new planet was discovered by an global 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.

Astronomers are planning to use cutting-edge, next-generation observatories to search for evidence of biological life in the atmospheres of select Earth-sized, temperate exoplanets orbiting red dwarf stars.

ESOThe planet is a similar size and temperature to Earth
ESOThe planet is a similar size and temperature to Earth

Red dwarfs are among the coolest stars in the universe. But Proxima b orbits another Red Dwarf star that is much more active, so the planet is likely exposed to more radiation.

In fact, it's thought that the planet, formally known as Ross 128 b, could be similar to Earth in terms of both its size and surface temperature.

As was previously noted, Ross 128 is now 11 light-years from Earth, but it's moving toward us and, as a result, it will one day be our nearest stellar neighbor...not for 79,000 years, but in cosmic terms, that is just the blink of an eye. Ross 128 b is 20 times closer to its star than Earth, taking a mere 9.9 days to complete one orbit. Determining whether the planet is actually capable of supporting life as we know it, however, would require a better understanding of its atmosphere, Bonfils said.

"HARPS is a spectrograph specially created to measure the radial velocity of the stars", Nicola Astudillo-Defru, an astronomer with the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland and a member of the team that made the discovery, told Popular Mechanics in an e-mail.

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But the star system this new planet is orbiting, called Ross 128, is much quieter, giving hope it could provide a suitable habit for life.

The problem, unfortunately, was that the relationship between Proxima Centauri and Proxima b wasn't the most serene. That puts the planet about 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. Ross 128 appears at the center of the picture.

No extraterrestrials have been spotted on Ross 128 b, nor even any alien germs.

Many of them throw out intense bursts of radiation and solar wind that would fry anything that tried to live on planets supported by them. There aren't really any telescopes available right now that can see Ross 128 b directly.

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While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a moderately temperate planet, uncertainty persists as to whether the planet is inside, outside, or at the top of a habitable zone, where liquid water exists on the surface of the planet.

Astronomers often talk about a "habitable zone" around a star - it's the range of distances where temperatures allow water to remain liquid on the surface of a planet.

Earlier this year, scientists said that they had received unusual pulses coming from the star. If we have, it'll not only offer the potential to see what another planet like our own looks like - but potentially to meet the aliens that live there, or to move there ourselves.

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