You may want to get used to the name Ross 128 b. The newly discovered exoplanet is the second closest to our solar system that has been found, only 11 light-years away. And it could harbor life.
Advertisements about exoplanets, those that are outside our solar system, seem almost commonplace in this golden age of discoveries for astronomers. So why is Ross 128 b unique, apart from his rather human name?
The planet is about the same size as Earth, and it can have a similar surface temperature, so it is a temperate world that could support life.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 15, 2017
Every 9.9 days, it completes an orbit around its host star, Ross 128, which is what is known as a red dwarf star: they are the coldest, weakest and most common stars found in the universe.
Due to their abundant nature and the fact that other exoplanets have been found around these types of stars, red dwarfs are being studied and observed more frequently in the hope of finding more exoplanets.
Astronomers found Ross 128 and his planet using the European Southern Observatory planetary search instrument, called HARPS. Planet Searcher search engine for high precision radial velocity is at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. Astronomers detail their discovery in a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
“Participating in such a discovery is very rewarding, and it helps to realize how much effort is worth it,” wrote Nicola Astudillo-DeFrof, one of the coauthors of the study at the University of Geneva observatory, in an email. “The special properties of this system mean that we are contributing our piece in the search for a Land 2.0”.
Other notable discoveries of exoplanets the size of the Earth in recent years, such as the planets TRAPPIST and Proxima b, were also found around these types of stars. They are also considered among the best hopes for life on planets outside our solar system because they exist within the “habitable zones” of their stars, where liquid water could accumulate on the surface of the planet and potentially sustain life as we know it.
Astronomers still do not know if Ross 128 b is in the habitable zone of his star, but it is likely, given what they know about red dwarfs and the planets that orbit them.
Ross 128 b is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth in front of the Sun, but because the star is small, thin and cold, the planet would still be at a potentially comfortable temperature.
The nature of the star is also the reason why the planet is subject to only 1.38 times the radiation that Earth receives from the Sun, even though the planet and the star are very close together.
But the reason why astronomers are excited about Ross 128 b is because the star is “silent”. Other red dwarfs, such as Proxima Centauri, the star that Proxima b orbits, tend to attack their planets with flares of ultraviolet radiation and X-rays.
But Ross 128 does not seem to be doing this, so it is considered “more silent”, which means that the planet is a more comfortable place for life to form without being subjected to violent episodes from time to time.