New earth-like planet found 11 light years from our solar system

M. Kornmesser

M. Kornmesser

A new Earth-sized planet located only 11 light years away from our Solar System has just been detected by astronomers at the Earth Science Observatory (ESO).

The exoplanet orbits a red dwarf star called Ross 128, the same star that scientists thought they had caught sending out weird radio signals earlier this year.

The astronomers believe that Ross 128 b is a good candidate for further study when the European Southern Observatory's Extremely Large Telescope can begin searching the atmospheres of exoplanets for biomarkers in 2025.

Ross 128, on the other hand, is what's known as a "quiet" M dwarf, meaning it doesn't seem to be shooting off the killer flares seen from other stars like it.

Translation: the combination of its nearness and calm host star make Ross 128 b one of the best places (if not the absolute best) to look for life beyond our solar system. Although that means it is much closer to the star than Earth is to the sun - in fact, the scientists' study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics says it is about 20 times closer - a red dwarf emits significantly less heat, so the planet is able to hover closer than ours does without getting scorched.

Although it is now 11 light-years from Earth, he said Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in "just" 79,000 years - a blink of the eye in cosmic terms. After Proxima b, Ross 128 b is the second closest temperate planet to be found. Ross 128 b will by then take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth! It was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

Astronomers estimate that in 79,000 years, Ross 128 b will be our exoplanet neighbor, even closer than Proxima b. Credit: Digitized Sky Survey 2.

The planet also orbits some 20 times closer to its star compared to Earth and our Sun.

While researchers have expressed excitement over the discovery, the ESO notes: "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". "With radial velocity we are able to detect the periodic stellar wobble produced by the planet (gravitational interaction), so we do not require a transit to make the detection".

"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.

"New facilities at ESO will first play a critical role in building the census of Earth-mass planets amenable to characterisation. And then, the ELT will provide the opportunity to observe and characterise a large fraction of these planets", concludes Xavier Bonfils. Where the habitable zone is depends on the star itself: red dwarfs are dimmer and therefore cooler than the Sun, so their habitable zones are shifted closer in than the equivalent zone around our star. As a result, this "reflex motion" velocity is much easier to spot.

[2] The habitable zone is defined by the range of orbits around a star in which a planet can possess the appropriate temperature for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface.

Proxima b is now the closest exoplanet to our solar system ever discovered, at a distance of 4.2 light-years.