Wednesday, November 15, 2017

They discover a potentially habitable planet only eleven light years from the Solar System

An international team of researchers has found a world with a mass similar to terrestrial that could meet the conditions to house life. Ross 128 b, as they have baptized it, is the second closest planet of this type known up to now.

Red dwarfs are very small stars, tenuous and cold that, at times, have objects around that can meet the necessary conditions to house life. The last to join this list of habitable worlds is Ross 128 b, an exoplanet of a size similar to that of Earth located only eleven light years from the Solar System.

The planet, which is the closest temperate habitable world known to date, has been discovered this week by a team of astronomers based on the data captured by the instrument known as the High Precision Radial Velocity Finder ( HARPS) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile.

The findings of the group, of which researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias are part, are listed in [[LINK: EXTERNAL ||| https: // pdf ||| a study published in 'Astronomy & Astrophysics']]. As indicated in the work, they detected the presence of Ross 128 b by observing oscillations in the light emitted by the star that orbits and to which it owes its name, the red dwarf 128, caused by the gravity of the planet.

The sky surrounding the red dwarf star Ross 128 | Source: ESO

The newly discovered world is actually the second temperate planet closest to Earth, after Next b. However, this last body, which orbits the red dwarf Próxima Centauri, presents much more unfavorable conditions for life. The reason is that that star emits flares of ultraviolet radiation and X-rays that bathe the planets that surround it.

However, it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, so that the exoplanet could be the world apt to harbor closer known life. The red dwarf moves towards us and is expected to become our closest stellar neighbor in about 79,000 years. By then, Próxima b will cede its position and 128 b will become the exoplanet closest to Earth.

Thanks to HARPS data, researchers have discovered that Ross 128 b has a mass 35% greater than that of the Earth, orbits 20 times closer to its star than the Sun's Earth and that its temperature oscillates between -60 and 20 ° C.

Although the scientists involved in the discovery consider Ross 128 b to be a temperate planet, there are still doubts about whether it is within the habitability zone. The exoplanet has become a good candidate to be studied with the Extremely Large Telescope that ESO is building in Chile, which will be able to detect markers of life conditions, such as oxygen.

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