Thursday, November 16, 2017

Newly Discovered Planet Could Be the Best Candidate Yet in Search for Life

Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

 Astronomers using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the European Southern Observatory have discovered a new planet that could be one of the best candidates to hosting alien life. The best part about this discovery is that it is only 11 light-years from the Sun.
 The planet, known as Ross 128b, orbits around a red dwarf star. Unlike Proxima b's parent star, Proxima Centauri, Ross 128b's host does not blast out powerful flares that could potentially bathe the planet in enough radiation to stunt the existence of life.
 To discover the existence of Ross 128b, scientists using HARP employed the 'radial velocity' method to notice wobbles in the star's movement induced by the gravitational tugs of the orbiting planet. This technique allowed researchers to determine that Ross 128b has a minimum mass of 1.35 times that of Earth and that the planet achieves a revolution around its host star every 9.9 Earth days.
 "Ross 128b receives 1.38 times [more] irradiation than Earth from our sun," said Xavier Bonfils of the University of Grenoble Alpes in France and discovery team leader. "Some models made by theorists say that a wet Earth-size planet with such irradiation would form high-altitude clouds. Those clouds would reflect back to space a large fraction of the incident light, hence preventing too much greenhouse heating. With those clouds, the surface would remain cool enough to allow liquid water at the surface. Not all models agree, though, and others predict this new planet is rather like Venus."

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