Alien life breakthrough on newly-discovered planet 'just like Earth'

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First there was Proxima b, the Earth-sized planet orbiting the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri.

Ross 128 b orbits the star Ross 128 just 11 light-years away and could be rocky and temperate like Earth, and just about the same size, too.

According to the research, the new planet completes an orbit around Ross 128 in just under 10 days.

The new world was discovered by a team using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (Harps) instrument at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

"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.

Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin This image shows the sky around the red dwarf star Ross 128 in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin).

Astronomers have spotted a roughly Earth-mass world circling the small, dim star Ross 128, which lies just 11 light-years from the sun.

As its name suggests, HARPS employs the "radial velocity" method, noticing the wobbles in a star's movement induced by the gravitational tugs of orbiting planets. When this eventually happens, Ross 128 b will usurp Proxima b's position as the Earth's closest exoplanet. The astronomers detail their discovery in a new study, published Wednesday in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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Co-discoverer Nicola Astudillo-Defru from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland said the find was the result of more than a decade of intensive monitoring using the Harps instrument.

Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet in the same solar system where "alien signals" were detected earlier this year. Unlike most exoplanet discoveries, Ross 128 b was not detected during a transit when the planet moves in front of the host star from our perspective, allowing astronomers to detect the reduction in light from the star. The nature of the star is also why the planet is subjected to only 1.38 times the radiation that Earth receives from the sun, even though the planet and star are close together. Other red dwarfs, like Proxima Centauri - the star that Proxima b orbits - have a tendency to lash out at their planets with deadly flares of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.

Translation: the combination of its nearness and calm host star make Ross 128 b one of the best places (if not the absolute best) to look for life beyond our solar system.

European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is set to search for this on this planet and other ones orbiting the red dwarf sun.

Proxima b is now the closest exoplanet to our solar system ever discovered, at a distance of 4.2 light-years. That may sound like a long time, but in a universe that is billions of years old, it's merely a cosmic moment.

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.

However, despite scientists' belief that Ross 128 b is likely a temperate exoplanet, there appears to be some uncertainty as to whether the planet lies within the habitable zone.

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