One Of The Closest Earth-Like Planets Ever Was Just Discovered

European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser

A low mass ‘exoplanet’ has been spotted, which has striking similarities to Earth.

Researchers observed this planet – which orbits red dwarf star Ross 128 – using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS).

They noticed how its mass was very similar to Earth’s, leading to some very interesting possibilities…

European Southern Observatory/IAU and Sky & Telescope

It’s believed the planet – known as Ross 128 b – may also share similarities to our home planet in regards to size and surface temperature.

And its not too far away either. I mean, it is 11 light years away from our solar system so you probably couldn’t make a weekend getaway out of it.

However, next to Proxima b, this is the second-nearest planet ever to be detected. This is also the nearest planet to be found orbiting an inactive red dwarf star. Greetings neighbours!

Co-author of the paper Nicola Astudillo-Defru of the University of Geneva, outlined the significance of the discovery in a European Southern Observatory press release:

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

Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision, and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations.

European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser

Using the data from HARPS, the team of researchers discovered how Ross 128 b orbits Ross 128 (all these Rosses surely must get confusing…) at a proximity 20 times greater than the earth orbits the sun.

However, even with this tight-knit orbit, Ross 128 b only gets 1.38 times more irradiation than Earth does. This means Ross 128 b is a little on the chilly side, with an estimated temperature of between -60 and 20°C.

This is because Ross 128 is a rather cool, faint small red dwarf host star, and its surface temperature is only half as fiery as the sun.

Learn more about Earth’s mysterious close-companion below:

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Although Ross 128 b is believed to be a temperate planet. It is still uncertain as to whether the exoplanet is within, outside of, or indeed on the cusp of the ‘habitable zone’ – where liquid water may be present on the surface.

As technology advances, an increasing number of temperate exoplanets are being detected, with astronomers working to learn about their atmospheres, composition and chemistry in greater depth.

The next big step will be the detection of biomarkers – including oxygen – in neighbouring exoplanet atmospheres. It’s believed ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will be very important when achieving this.

According to lead author Xavier Bonfils, from Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG):

New facilities at ESO will first play a critical role in building the census of Earth-mass planets amenable to characterisation.

In particular, NIRPS, the infrared arm of HARPS, will boost our efficiency in observing red dwarfs, which emit most of their radiation in the infrared.

And then, the ELT will provide the opportunity to observe and characterise a large fraction of these planets.

What new information can we learn about the universe from this out-of-this world discovery?