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 past year.
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.
The ESO reports that its High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument was what discovered Ross 128 b. But that star is a lot more temperamental, and throws out radiation that makes the conditions very unlikely to be able to support life, or at least like anything on Earth.
Through data from HARPS, the team found that Ross 128b orbits 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun.
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"While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a temperate planet, uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet's surface". Orbiting planets, while tiny, can gravitationally tug on a star, causing the star to shake in its orbit.
Ross 128 b An artist's concept of exoplanet Ross 128 b. The planet, known as Ross 128b, may have surface temperatures amenable to life as we know it, the researchers announced in a new study that will appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. 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. "Hence, it is more likely [we'll] find [signs of life] on Ross 128 b than any other star".
The Earth-sized world may have a surface temperature close to that of the Earth. The image below shows the habitable zone calculations for an A-type star (a star much more luminous than Sol), a sun-like star, and an M-class star (red dwarf). Proxima Centauri is only 4.2 light-years away. The researchers said the temperatures on the planet likely range from minus-76 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-60 to 20 degrees Celsius).
Despite Ross 128 and Ross 128 b's distance away from Earth, it is moving towards us and is expected to surpass Proxima b and become our closest stellar neighbor in 79,000 years.
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So, while Ross 128 b is a potentially habitable world, we haven't found aliens yet.
The next step is for astronomers to study the atmospheric chemistry of exoplanets like Ross 128 b using powerful new telescopes such as the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which will begin operations within the next few years.
When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some odd, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128. Both will be able to examine worlds like Ross 128 b in new detail, offering new insights into Earth-size exoplanets like never before.
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