The planet, known as Ross 128 b, is located a mere 11 light-years from Earth, and will one day become the closest exoplanet to our Sun, dethroning our current immediate neighbor exoplanet - Proxima b. It is now the second-closest temperate planet to Earth, after Proxima b.
However, despite scientists' belief that Ross 128 b is likely a temperate exoplanet, there appears to be some uncertainty as to whether the planet lies within the habitable zone.
The planet also orbits some 20 times closer to its star compared to Earth and our Sun. Scientists say a planet needs temperatures between -60°C and +20°C to be considered temperate. If the planet is too close to the star, its water would evaporate; too far away and the water would freeze into ice. It's 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun, but its star is smaller and dimmer than the sun, so the planet is likely within the right temperature range for liquid water to exist. 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. The ESO's Extremely Large Telescope could find out whether Ross 128 b possesses oxygen or other chemical markers that could be signs of habitability or extant life.
"In particular, NIRPS, the infrared arm of HARPS, will boost our efficiency in observing red dwarfs, which emit most of their radiation in the infrared".
He said Ross 128b will by then take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth.
An artist’s impression of exoplanet Ross 128 b with its red-dwarf parent star in the background
Ross 128 b's red dwarf star Ross 128, is particuarly quiet, according to experts. However, Bonfils stressed that "it's not the only potentially habitable planet we've detect this year - just the closest one". "They list all the close encounters with other stars, and because of the relative movements of stars and the Sun, it results that Ross 128 will be our closest star".
Why are people so excited about Ross 128 b?The HARPS instrument, which is mounted aboard a 3.6-meter optical and near-infrared telescope, does not directly observe exoplanets, but instead watches for a minute wobble in the motion of a host star created by the gravitational influence of an orbiting world.
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.
Astronomers are now detecting more and more of these temperate exoplanets, and the next stage will be to study their atmospheres, composition and chemistry in more detail, scientists said. It's actually easier to detect exoplanets around red dwarfs because the stars are much fainter (none are visible with the naked eye from Earth) and thus don't wash out their surroundings as drastically.
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