16 November, 2017
Maybe. This is the plucky star's second time in the spotlight this year. In addition, it's the closest planet to have been observed orbiting an inactive red dwarf star - an arrangement that may raise the likelihood that it could sustain life.
Where should we look for alien life? Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory had picked up the broadband signals, which were described as semi-periodic pulses, and their mysterious nature got a lot of people excited about the prospect that they were a message from aliens. Considering the oldest human remains are thought to be hundreds of thousands or even millions of years old, it's not insane to think our species could still be roaming the Earth when Ross 128 b becomes the closest exoplanet to our home world. "And then, the ELT will provide the opportunity to observe and characterise a large fraction of these planets", concludes Xavier Bonfils, lead author of the paper detailing this discovery. That makes this planetary system much more conducive to hosting any potential life. "Small stars like Ross 128 emit most of their light in the infrared, so infrared HARPS promise much more discoveries", he added. HARPS, which is attached to a 3.6-meter telescope at Chile's La Silla Observatory, works by splitting starlight into its component wavelengths. HARPS is a spectrograph that can detect the wobble of a star caused by the gravity of an orbiting planet.More news: Here's your first look at Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor
"HARPS is a spectrograph specially created to measure the radial velocity of the stars", Nicola Astudillo-Defru, an astronomer with the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland and a member of the team that made the discovery, told Popular Mechanics in an e-mail. From these readings, astronomers can make calculations about a planet's mass and orbit. You see Ross 128 is actually moving towards our solar system at tremendous speed which means that in around 79,000 years it will actually overtake Proxima B to become our closest exoplanet with an Earth-like temperature. The planet, named Ross 128 b, has a predicted temperature range that could allow liquid water to exist on the surface. The research team estimates that Ross 128 b receives just 38 percent more radiation than Earth does and should have equilibrium temperatures between minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit and 69 degrees Fahrenheit. If the planet is too close to the star, its water would evaporate; too far away and the water would freeze into ice. The planet could hold liquid water and conditions favorable for life. The researchers said that new tools, such as the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which is set to begin observations in 2024, may be able to determine the atmospheric compositions of exoplanets, providing more evidence whether they could support life. Ross 128 appears at the center of the picture.
We might just have spotted our new home - or someone else's. Frequent solar flares can blast the atmosphere right off a planet, as can ordinary solar wind. If so, that could prevent the planet from overheating. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable".