New planet could support life: ESO observatory

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The ESO said it had discovered the planet, Ross 128b, orbiting a star within the constellation of Virgo and it is comparatively "close" at just 11 light years outside the Solar System. There are many exoplanets orbiting dwarf stars with the potential to support life, but most of those stars are very active and throw off enough radiation to destroy anything living.

Announcements about exoplanets, those found outside our solar system, seem nearly commonplace in this golden age of discovery for astronomers.

The big question: Is Ross 128 b habitable?

Of the smaller contingent of Earth-sized planets, the vast majority orbit so-called red dwarf stars - the most common type.

Due to their plentiful nature and the fact that other exoplanets have been found around these types of stars, red dwarfs are being studied and observed with increasing frequency in the hopes of finding more exoplanets. The European Southern Observatory announced the planet's discovery on Wednesday, saying it would further investigate the world, looking for signs of biological activity and life-supporting conditions, using its Extremely Large Telescope in Chile.

Astronomers have discovered the best new interstellar vacation spot of 3017 - and the weather there is gorgeous.

Although it is now 11 light years from Earth, the planet is moving towards us and is expected to be our nearest star neighbor in just 79,000 years, a blink of an eye in cosmic terms.

The artist's impression shows the planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background
The artist's impression shows the planet Ross 128 b with its red dwarf parent star in the background

What remains unclear, according to the study, is whether the exoplanet is within the star's habitable zone, the orbital range at which it is possible for liquid water to exist on a planet's surface.

"The presence of a planet in Ross 128 is a fortunate result for our research and we plan to continue observing this star", he told International Business Times. 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.

"With the data from HARPS, the team found that Ross 128 b orbits 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun".

First there was Proxima b, the Earth-sized planet orbiting the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri.

Proxima b is now the closest exoplanet to our solar system ever discovered, at a distance of 4.2 light-years. If scientists are able to detect gases like oxygen in the atmosphere of Ross 128 b, that could be a good indicator of biological processes on the planet. The observing target list included a couple stars that had exoplanets, as well as a few that didn't-including, at the time, Ross 128.

The problem, unfortunately, was that the relationship between Proxima Centauri and Proxima b wasn't the most serene.

Astronomers have also discovered that Ross 128 b is roughly the same size as Earth and may have a similar temperature on its surface, though more observation is needed.

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