Astronomers discover potentially habitable planet

  1. Newly discovered planet presents best-known chance of habitability.
  2. New telescope scheduled for use in 2024 will improve our cosmic knowledge.

Astronomers working at an observatory in Chile have discovered a new planet that could potentially be able to sustain human life, according to a leading intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) said on November 15 that “Ross 128 b” had been discovered after more than a decade of intensive monitoring and data analysis by a team working with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at Chile’s La Silla Observatory.

Ross 128 b is situated at around 11 light-years from Earth – making it the second-closest potentially habitable exoplanet to be found. (Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system that orbit a star). Proxima Centauri b is the nearest exoplanet, at 4.22 light years. However, the ESO said Ross 128 b currently seems more habitable than Proxima Centauri because it orbits an inactive red dwarf star – which is less prone to potentially lethal solar flares than Proxima’s red dwarf star. Proxima Centauri b also receives about 30 times more extreme ultraviolet radiation than Earth, according to the BBC.

Ross 128 b is 1.35 times the size of Earth, and receives only a little more radiation from its star.

Scientists hope that more can be learned when the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is ready for use in 2024.

Ross 128 b.
This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. (ESO/M. Kornmesser CC-BY 4.0)
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