A temperate planet has been discovered only 11 light-years from Earth by a team using ESO's unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument.
Compared to Proxima Centauri and many other red dwarfs, "it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the closest known comfortable abode for possible life", said Xavier Bonfils at the University of Grenoble, France, who led the European team behind the new discovery.
Newly discovered planet Ross 128 b has all of the characteristics of a planet that could support life, astronomers wrote in a new research paper detailing their findings.
The U.S. space agency says in a Wednesday, Nov. 15 statement that planet Ross 128 b is now the second-closest known Earth-sized planet located in the habitable zone. The planet, Ross 128 b, orbits the star once every 9.9 days.
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.
Ross 128 b An artist's concept of exoplanet Ross 128 b. At that point, Ross 128b will take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth. Those wobbles shift stars' spectrums, and by tracking these shifts, HARPS can infer planets are present.
"I plan to continue searching for new worlds, specially around Ross 128 because it is likely that there are more planets", Astudillo-Defru said.
We won't know for sure what kind of atmosphere this planet has until we look at it directly, and that may not happen for a while.
Bonfils and his co-authors haven't actually seen the planet, but they were able to measure the wavelenths of light emitting from the star, and, they suspect, the nearby planet is between 1.35 and two time the mass of Earth. In just 79,000 years, Ross 128 b will be closer to us than Proxima b. Unlike Proxima Centauri, Ross 128 is said to be "quiet", meaning it spews out comparatively less radiation that could harm life as we know it. Where the habitable zone is depends on the star itself: red dwarfs are dimmer and therefore cooler than the Sun, so their habitable zones are shifted closer in than the equivalent zone around our star. In June, one was discovered in the orbit of GJ 625, around 21 light-years away, and in August, an exoplanet was spotted in a system that's just 16 light-years away. The star may have been more turbulent in its youth. That's a red dwarf - a type of sun that offers hope to scientists looking for exoplanets, but comes with some caveats.
They include the ESO's 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope under construction in Chile which is due to begin operating in 2024.
Earlier this year, scientists said that they had received odd pulses coming from the star.
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