Nearby planet 'could host alien life' - and it's moving towards Earth

Epic stargazing at La Silla Observatory

Astronomers have discovered a new exoplanet that may have the potential to host life, just 11 light-years away from Earth.

Scientists at the La Silla Observatory in Chile detected Ross 128 b using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), which measures wobbles in stars that have planets orbiting them.

Scientists still aren't quite sure what the planet's surface looks like, or whether there is liquid water present.

An artist's impression of exoplanet Ross 128 b, with its red-dwarf parent star in the background.

Many red dwarf stars are subject to flares which occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

Red dwarfs are the most common stars in the galaxy, making up about 70 percent of all known stars, and tend to hold water-friendly planets in their orbit. The researchers said that new tools, such as the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which is set to begin observations in 2024, may be able to determine the atmospheric compositions of exoplanets, providing more evidence whether they could support life. However, Bonfils stressed that "it's not the only potentially habitable planet we've detect this year - just the closest one".

At 11 light years away, Ross 128 b is already a stellar neighbor, but interestingly, it will soon drop by for a visit. Ross 128 b is 20 times closer to its star than Earth, taking a mere 9.9 days to complete one orbit.

An artist’s impression of exoplanet Ross 128 b with its red-dwarf parent star in the background
An artist’s impression of exoplanet Ross 128 b with its red-dwarf parent star in the background

It may seem like an out-of-this-world claim, but if there was ever a place that could support life - whether that be alien or Earthling, sometime in the future - this appears to be it. Considering the oldest human remains are thought to be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years old, it's not insane to think our species could still be roaming the Earth when Ross 128 b becomes the closest exoplanet to our home world.

"Ten years from now, we will be capable, thanks to giant telescopes, to directly "see" the planet and characterize its atmosphere", Astudillo-Defru told Futurism via email.

The problem, unfortunately, was that the relationship between Proxima Centauri and Proxima b wasn't the most serene. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable". The star is moving toward us, and will overtake Proxima Centauri as the closest sun to ours in about 79,000 years.

Alongside the ESA, NASA's Kepler space telescope has also been hunting for exoplanets and since 2009 has found some 30 planets that fall within their host star's habitable zone.

While researchers have expressed excitement over the discovery, the ESO notes: "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". Based on the data, the team estimated that the imaginatively-named exoplanet Ross 128 b orbits its star at the equivalent of one twentieth the distance between the Earth and Sun.

Earlier this year, by the way, radio astronomers detected a odd signal that seemed to be emanating from Ross 128.




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