Scientists have found a close, “comfy” planet that’s one of our closest neighbours – and could support life.
The new exoplanet, known as Ross 128 b, is the size of our own Earth and has a surface temperature that might be close to our own. That and the qualities of its star make it one of the most likely candidates for finding life near our own planet.
As well as those similarities, the star that the planet orbits around is a red dwarf. Those are cool, faint and common in the universe, and scientists are working hard to find planets surrounding them as they hunt for more worlds and potentially forms of life elsewhere in space.
Nasa’s most stunning pictures of space
Scientists have found a number of potentially life-supporting exoplanets that are relatively nearby. But many of them are hampered as life-supporting planets by the fact that their stars are very active, throwing out energy that could destroy any life that has tried to grow there.
Ross 128, by comparison, is a very “quiet” star, and is now the quietest to be known to have a planet orbiting it. That means that it could be a far more comfortable place to live, and so improves the chances that life could be found there.
The star is currently 11 light years away from Earth, but it’s gradually moving closer. In just 79,000 years, it will become our nearest neighbour – meaning that Ross 128 b will unseat Proxima b as the closest known exoplanet to us.
The star was found by a team working with the European Southern Observatory’s High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, which is also known as HARPS.
“This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques. Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations,” Nicola Astudillo-Defru, who co-authored the discovery paper, said in a statement.
Planets around red dwarf stars also easier to detect than those that orbit brighter planets like our own sun. For that reason, lead author Xavier Bonfils has referred to the HARPS project as “The shortcut to happiness”, since it’s an easy way of finding such exoplanets.
Many of those planets are hit by deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation thrown out by the red dwarfs. But Ross 128 is much quieter, and so anything living on the planet would be more likely to survive.