New Planetary Discovery Is An Important Step For Finding Another Earth

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"An important discovery from Europe reveals a likely terrestrial, Earth-mass planet only 11 light-years away", NASA's Exoplanet Exploration team reports in a news release.

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.

Ross 128b orbits its host star once every 9.9 days and is 20 times closer to its host star than Earth is to the sun. Those wobbles shift stars' spectrums, and by tracking these shifts, HARPS can infer planets are present.

According to the ESO, red dwarf stars are some of the "coolest, faintest and most common" stars in the Universe, which make them the best targets for astronomers to search for when hunting potential alien worlds. Ross 128 is the nearest "quietest" star to become a host such a temperate exoplanet.

Many red dwarf stars, including Proxima Centauri, are subject to flares that occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

The orbit of Ross 128 b is 20 times more proximal (20 times closer) than the distance between the Earth and the Sun - but the planet receives only 1.38 times more irradiation, which keeps its equilibrium temperature between -60°C and 20°C (-76°F and 68°F).

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As for Ross 128 b, Bonfils told Futurism one forthcoming telescope in particular should prove useful for further study. It is now the second-closest temperate planet to Earth, after Proxima b. "They list all the close encounters with other stars, and because of the relative movements of stars and the Sun, it results that Ross 128 will be our closest star". The planet is believed to border the so-called habitable zone. Flaring stars can blast nearby planets with lots of radiation, stripping away their atmospheres and making them uninhabitable. But even if solar flares billions of years ago stripped away the planet's atmosphere, it could have been replenished by gases emanating from the planet's interior, Bonfils said.

The Earth-sized world is estimated to have a temperate climate, with surface temperatures that may also be close to Earth. As astronomers paid more attention, they began realizing that Proxima Centauri, like many red dwarfs, was probably incredibly active in its youth, spewing intense amounts of stellar radiation that would have nearly certainly bludgeoned the small planet. Abel Méndez, the director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at Arecibo, nicknamed them "the Weird!"

And the star may indeed be targeted in the not-too-distant-future - by giant ground-based instruments such as the European Extremely Large Telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope, and the Thirty Meter Telescope, all of which are scheduled to be up and running by the mid-2020s.

Scientists have discovered an Earth-like exoplanet around the star Ross 128, which can be found (marked with a red circle) in the constellation Virgo.

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