This is good news for any life that is trying to cling to existence as it means the planet is not being bathed in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.
It is now moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in "just" 79,000 years when it will take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth.
It is also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which may increase the likelihood that this planet could potentially sustain life. 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.
"While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a temperate planet, uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet's surface", scientists added. Thus, the discovery of an Earth-mass world orbiting the star is significant. In our own solar system, it's the area roughly between the orbits of Venus and Mars.
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"Because Proxima Centauri blasts its planet with strong flares and high energy radiation, yes, I think Ross 128 is much more comfortable for the development of life", Dr. Nicola Astudillo-Defru, one of the researchers on the project, told BBC News. "Ross 128 is one of the quietest stars of our sample and, although it is a little further away from us (2.6x), it makes for an excellent alternative target". In fact, most red dwarfs are prone to flaring, which is bad news in the search for alien life outside our Solar System.
As was previously noted, Ross 128 is now 11 light-years from Earth, but it's moving toward us and, as a result, it will one day be our nearest stellar neighbor...not for 79,000 years, but in cosmic terms, that is just the blink of an eye. The star is moving toward us, and will overtake Proxima Centauri as the closest sun to ours in about 79,000 years. If the ELT can see into Ross 128 b's atmosphere and find the critical gases associated with life - water vapor, oxygen, and methane - then scientists will have a better idea of whether life is present.
An artist's conception shows the planet Ross 128b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. The star may have been more turbulent in its youth.
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. "Some models made by theorists say that a wet Earth-size planet with such irradiation would form high-altitude clouds". Méndez's team wasn't looking for extraterrestrial signals; they were hoping to learn how red dwarf flares interacted with exoplanets.
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