Ross 128b

Ross 128b – A Search for Life beyond Our Planet

Are we the only think tanks in this universe? Is there a place somewhere in the whole universe where some advanced living beings breathe air just like us? These are probably the most intriguing questions that are dropping restless thoughts in us for quite some time. A group of researchers has just discovered a low mass alien planet (You can call it an exoplanet), popularly known as Ross 128b by using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS). This newly discovered planet could be similar to our planet both in terms size and surface temperature and is approximately 11 light years away. This planet is thought to be the most potentially favorable planet discovered so far where we could have found an atmosphere that supports life.

Ross 128b
Artist’s impression of the planet Ross 128 b, with the star Ross 128 in the background. (Credit: ESO | M. Kornmesser)

“This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques,” said Nicola Astudillo-Defru of the University of Geneva, who co-authored the paper outlining the exoplanet’s discovery, in a press release. She adds that “Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision, and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations.”

Ross 128b
A planet the same size of Earth and with a similar surface temperature may be ‘the closest known comfortable abode for possible life’. The newly discovered world, named Ross 128b, was found orbiting a red dwarf star 11 light-years away from Earth (artist’s impression pictured). (Credit: Dailymail)

Now the question arises why Ross 128 b has managed to draw so much attention. The team behind this discovery tells that unlike most of the red dwarf stars Ross 128 (around which the planet orbits), experiences very less solar flares that could roast their planets in deadly radiations. Consequently, its planets were thought to sit at very comfortable distances to accommodate any kind of lives. There is one very interesting fact about this planet- it will be our nearest stellar neighbor in around 79,000 years. The time seems to be very large, but in cosmic terms, it is just the blink of an eye. Furthermore, the red dwarfs are proven to be very fruitful for the astronomers who are constantly searching for an Earth-like exoplanet. They constitute approximately 70 of all the known stars and tend to have water-friendly planets orbiting around them, which means that these planets have an atmosphere that helps lives to flourish. In June 2017, one such planet was discovered in the orbit of GJ 625, around 21 light years away and in August, another one was marked in a system that is just 16 light years away. The discovery of Ross 128 b has just served as the icing on the cake, as it is very close to our planet earth.

Some readers may recall there is an even closer Earth-sized planet, known as Proxima Centauri, which sits just 4.25 light years away. However, it is proven to be inhabitable for humans as it orbits around a much younger, more powerful red dwarf star which has an ability to roast its planets into an inferno.

Ross 128b
An artist’s impression of the surface of planet Proxima b (Credit: ESO)

Today’s astronomers have some technological advantages which help them to find more and more of such exoplanets that could support life. The scientists who discovered the planet told National Geographic, which first reported the news, that they’ll need more data going forward. “To characterize the planet, we’ll have to wait for the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope around 2025,” said Bonfils. “Then, we shall be able to see the planet and search for an atmosphere.” The miles we travel to summon the next earth is a million distance we need to travel.

Sources: ESO, TechCrunch, CNN, Futurism, The Verge

The author is a budding science enthusiast working in the field of nanoscience and technology. He has a strong urge for new scientific and technological advances and would like to bring science to the common masses by writing popular science articles. Presently, he is working as a research fellow in the Department of Physics, Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam, India