Scientists found a new Earth-sized planet nearby…and it might be habitable

Nearby exoplanet is a target for life

The ESO said it had discovered the planet, Ross 128b, orbiting a star within the constellation of Virgo and it is comparatively "close" at just 11 light years outside the Solar System. In reporting their findings in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the scientists added yet another option to the blossoming list of "planets outside the solar system that could be potentially habitable to life", with this latest world being touted as one of the best chances-possibly the best chance-for finding extraterrestrial life yet.

The ESO reports that its High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument was what discovered Ross 128 b. That means the planet may have a surface temperature similar to Earth.

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

Proxima Centauri b, for instance - which is just four lightyears away - orbits around its own red dwarf.

"We have many instruments coming online to boost the search for planets around similar stars, notably SPIRou at the Canada-France-Hawai-Telescope and NIRPS to complement HARPS at the 3.6m telescope in La Silla", Bonfils told Futurism. The ESO's Extremely Large Telescope could find out whether Ross 128 b possesses oxygen or other chemical markers that could be signs of habitability or extant life. 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.

Two things to keep in mind: We don't know yet if Ross 128b has an atmosphere or, if it has one, whether that atmosphere has the proper composition to support life as we know it.


Astronomers announced Wednesday the discovery of an Earth-size planet around a small red star in our corner of the galaxy. 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. 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. Ross 128 appears at the center of the picture.

What remains unclear, according to the study, is whether the exoplanet is within the star's habitable zone, the orbital range at which it is possible for liquid water to exist on a planet's surface. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable". Scientists say a planet needs temperatures between -60°C and +20°C to be considered temperate.

"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.

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

The question "are we alone in the universe?" has bewildered mankind for eons as the search for alien life thus far has yielded no results.

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