Earth-Like Planet Found By Star Where Scientists Discovered 'Alien Signals'

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b which lies only 11 light-years from Earth and was found by a team using ESO’s unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument. Image ESO  M. Kornmesser

But the best news for possible life on Ross 128b is the planet's peaceful parent star.

Ross 128 b is an exoplanet now located 11 light-years from our solar system, but it is moving closer and is predicted to become Earth's closest stellar neighbor in 79,000 years, scientists said. Ross 128 is the nearest "quietest" star to become a host such a temperate exoplanet.

European scientists found Ross 128 b using HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher.

Ross 128 b orbits 20 times closer to its star than the Earth orbits the Sun. But Ross 128 is rather quiet, suggesting conditions on Ross 128b are potentially peaceful enough for life to emerge. Scientists say a planet needs temperatures between -60°C and +20°C to be considered temperate.

They must find oxygen to figure out if it could be a good host planet for human colonisation or whether life already exists there. That not only means that any life that is supported by them is more likely to flourish on planets that are closer, but it also means that they're easier for us to see, because there's not such a bright sun in the way.

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Such a tight orbit would render Ross 128b uninhabitable in our own solar system.

If the newly discovered planet were the same distance from the red dwarf as Earth is from the sun, it would be frigid. HARPS is a spectrograph that can detect the wobble of a star caused by the gravity of an orbiting planet.

"This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques", said Nicola Astudillo-Defru of the University of Geneva, who co-authored the paper outlining the exoplanet's discovery, in a press release.

There's a new place to look for life in the universe.

Because the planet is so low-mass, the researchers are pretty sure that it's rocky like Earth.

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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.

The planet, Ross 128b, orbits a red dwarf star.

Other notable discoveries of Earth-size exoplanets in recent years, like the TRAPPIST planets and Proxima b, were also found around these types of stars.

After finding an exoplanet, scientists need to test its atmosphere, but the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope will only be able to do those kinds of tests for the closest exoplanets. However, Ross 128 is a particularly calm and cool dwarf star, only about 20 percent the diameter of the sun with a little more than half the sun's surface temperature. Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets.

Maybe. This is the plucky star's second time in the spotlight this year.

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When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some unusual, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128.

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