Scientists discover 'nearby' Earth-like planet that could potentially support life

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Scientists have spotted a planet the same size as Earth which is the "the closest known comfortable abode for possible life", just 11 light years away.

Scientists think "Ross 128 b" - which is around the same size as Earth, with a surface temperature that could also be similar to our planet - may be capable of sustaining life.

This artist's impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, which lies only 11 light-years from Earth, and was found by a team using ESO's unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument.

Unveiled past year, Proxima B is just 4.8 light-years from Earth and like Ross 128 it too orbits a red dwarf star.

Ross 128 is the "quietest" nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet and its newly discovered companion - which orbits its host star in only 9.9 days - is the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after the discovery of Proxima b previous year. Follow-up observations are needed to determine whether Ross 128 b orbits within or near the habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface.

The exoplanet has been named after its host star - Ross 128 - which it orbits every 9.9 days.

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.

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She added: "This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques".

It will allow astronomers to collect the light from Ross 128 b and analyse it for biological gases such as oxygen. Scientists found that the exoplanet orbits Ross 128 around 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun.

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

"Meanwhile, it is probably preferable to refer to Ross 128 b as a temperate planet rather than as a habitable zone planet", the authors wrote.

The team has reported their findings in a paper slated to appear in thejournal Astronomy & Astrophysics. Ross 128 b could change this, because the planet and its star are moving toward us. "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". 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. That may sound like a long time, but in a universe that is billions of years old, it's merely a cosmic moment.

"Ross 128 b will be a prime target for ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which will be able to search for biomarkers in the planet's atmosphere", the ESO said in a statement.

"I plan to continue searching for new worlds, specially around Ross 128 because it is likely that there are more planets", Astudillo-Defru said.

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