Nearby Alien Planet May Be Capable of Supporting Life


This artist’s illustration shows the potentially temperate planet Ross 128b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. Credit: M. Kornmesser/ESO
One of the nearest exoplanets to Earth may be a decent abode for life. Ross 128b — which lies just 11 light-years from our planet — is likely a rocky and temperate world, a new study suggests.

By Mike Wall | SPACE.com

„Although Ross 128b is not Earth’s twin, and there is still much we don’t know about its potential geologic activity, we were able to strengthen the argument that it’s a temperate planet that could potentially have liquid water on its surface,“ lead author Diogo Souto, of the Observatório Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said in a statement. [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]

Ross 128b has excited and intrigued astrobiologists since its discovery last year. The planet appears to circle in the „habitable zone“ of its host star — that just-right range of distances where liquid water could exist on a world’s surface. (Ross 128b circles a small, dim red dwarf star, so the habitable zone is quite close in; the planet completes one orbit every 9.9 Earth days.)

Initial estimates also indicated that Ross 128b has a minimum mass just 1.35 times that of Earth and therefore stands a good chance of being rocky, just like our own planet.

The new study will not dampen that enthusiasm. The researchers analyzed Ross 128b’s parent star, known as Ross 128, using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE), a spectroscopic instrument installed on a telescope in New Mexico.

„The ability of APOGEE to measure near-infrared light, where Ross 128 is brightest, was key for this study,“ study co-author Johanna Teske, of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., said in the same statement. „It allowed us to address some fundamental questions about Ross 128b’s ‚Earth-like-ness.'“

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