Newfound Earth-like exoplanet a good spot to hunt for aliens

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background

Scientists have suggested exoplanet Ross 128 b, which is only 11 light years away and roughly the same size as Earth, could potentially harbor alien life because it is temperate and its star is relatively calm. The planet, Ross 128 b, orbits the star once every 9.9 days.

The new planet was discovered by an worldwide team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in the high desert of Chile.

Many red dwarf stars are subject to flares which occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. However, it's not likely to be a place for humans to live as it orbits a much younger, more powerful red dwarf star that is likely roasting the planet into an inferno.

"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. But for cooler stars, even a close-orbiting planet could harbor water.

Radiation is likely much less of an issue for Ross 128b, because its parent star is not an active flarer, said discovery team leader Xavier Bonfils, of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble and the University of Grenoble Alpes in France.

But these are comparatively hard to detect; most of the 3,500 known exoplanets are so-called Hot Jupiters - huge gas giants orbiting very close to their parent stars that likely don't have suitable conditions for life. The temperatures on the planet Ross 128 b could therefore be comparable to those on Earth, estimated at at -60 to 20 degrees Celsius (-76 to 68°F). The organization discovered the planet, named Ross 128b, orbiting a star within the constellation of Virgo.

Where should we look for alien life?

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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.

Ross 128 b has numerous hallmarks that make for a promising target in the search for extraterrestrial life as it shares many similarities to Earth, the only world on which life is known to exist. An exoplanet is any planet not in our solar system. However, in "only" 79, 000 years, this will all change as Ross 128 is moving towards us.

Often, red dwarfs release periodic flares.

Their next step is to analyze the planet's atmosphere for signs of oxygen and other biomarkers that might indicate the presence of or conditions for life. The world, which is about one-and-a-half times the mass of Earth, may be in the star's habitable zone, too.

More exoplanets are being discovered by astronomers due in part to tools like HARP and ESO's Extremely Large Telescope. For that reason, the scientists refer to Ross 128 b as "the best temperate planet known to date".

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

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