Cosmic communities? Newly discovered exoplanet could be home to alien life

Cosmic communities? Newly discovered exoplanet could be home to alien life

Today, however, scientists have announced the location of a relatively nearby planet that may be the best candidate we've ever found for supporting life.

And while Proxima Centauri is the closest star to Earth (there are actually two stars in the system), making Proxima b the closest exoplanet, that won't always be the case: in 79,000 years - an incredibly short span of time, astronomically speaking - that title will belong to Ross 128 b.

An artist's conception shows the planet Ross 128b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background.

According to the press release, Ross 128 b is "also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which may increase the likelihood that this planet could potentially sustain life". An exoplanet is simply a planet that orbits a star that's not our sun.

"This is the closest Earth-mass planet potentially in the habitable zone that orbits a quiet star", Bonfils told Space.com via email, referring to the range of orbital distances where liquid water could exist on a world's surface.

The only closer temperate planet is Proxima b, whose star, another red dwarf, bombards it with ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, possibly rendering it uninhabitable. There isn't even any sign as to whether the planet possesses other elements essential to life as we know it, like atmospheric oxygen.

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When the ELT comes online, "It shall provide both the collecting power and the angular resolution to observe Ross 128 b directly". Only the planet Proxima b, which orbits around the star Proxima Centauri, is closer, at 4.2 light-years away. Ross 128 b's location - either inside, outside or on the edge of the habitable zone - could determine whether the planet's surface could contain liquid water. Ross 128 appears at the centre of the picture.

Its most recent discovery came in early 2017 and featured an impressive 10 new planets all of which fall within the "goldilocks zone". It also orbits around its host star (a red-dwarf) every 9.9 days. 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. As a result, this "reflex motion" velocity is much easier to spot. Abel Méndez, the director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at Arecibo, nicknamed them "the Weird!" Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets. "For now we will continue to monitor the star to search for additional companions", wrote Astudillo-Defru. If we have, it'll not only offer the potential to see what another planet like our own looks like - but potentially to meet the aliens that live there, or to move there ourselves.

More exoplanets are being discovered by astronomers due in part to tools like HARP and ESO's Extremely Large Telescope.

He said Ross 128b will by then take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth.

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