ASTRONOMERS have discovered an Earth-sized planet which may be "the closest known comfortable abode for possible life".
The new exoplanet, named Ross 128 b, has numerous properties necessary for supporting life: It's a similar size to Earth, it has a rocky surface, and the distance from its star potentially puts it in the "habitable zone"- the area around a star where temperatures allow water to remain liquid on the surface of a planet.
It's known as Ross 128 b, and it's just 11 light-years from Earth.
Scientists think "Ross 128 b" - which is around the same size as Earth, with a surface temperature that could also be similar to our planet - may be capable of sustaining life. However, it's not likely to be a place for humans to live as it orbits a much younger, more powerful red dwarf star that is likely roasting the planet into an inferno. Dubbed Ross 128 b, the newfound world is about 11 light-years from our solar system, in the constellation Virgo.
The planet might be a better candidate for life than other exoplanets found around red dwarfs because Ross 128 is a particularly quiet star, the researchers said.
Additionally, red dwarf "flare" stars like Ross 128 and Proxima Centauri periodically erupt showers of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, which would be harmful to Earth-like lifeforms. Ross 128 on the other hand is thought to be relatively inactive, and so may not pose as great a threat to Ross 128 b as Proxima Centauri does to Proxima b. "But Ross 128 b is at least theoretically habitable - and what's more, it's extremely nearby".
But what has got people especially excited is its star, Ross 128.
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.
Consequently, it is expected to have a surface temperature close to that on Earth. This is because the red dwarf is much smaller and cooler than our star.
"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.
Astronomers have in the past couple of decades discovered an abundance of star-hugging planets, far different from anything in our solar system. The star may have been more turbulent in its youth.
Red dwarfs are also a frequent target for SETI searches, mostly due to their prevalence.
In May, Abel Méndez, an associate professor of physics and astrobiology at the University of Puerto Rico, led a campaign at Arecibo Observatory to examine radio emissions coming from several nearby red dwarf stars.
When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some odd, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128. His team plans to continue observing the system.
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.
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