Astronomers in Chile have discovered a planet that may be capable of supporting life and is only 11 light-years away from Earth. In a report soon to be published in Astronomy and Astrophyics, they wrote that the planet could have liquid water and a temperature close to that of Earth.
The astronomers named the planet Ross 128B, after its star, a red dwarf called Ross 128. The planet and star are 20 times closer to each other than Earth is to the sun, according to the researchers, but they said that Ross 128’s radiation and heat are so much lower than our sun’s that the planet could still have an Earthlike temperature.
Xavier Bonfils, of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics in France, discovered the new planet in 2016 with Nicola Astudillo-Defru of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland. Astudillo-Defru said that he and Bonfils made their discovery after a decade of “intensive monitoring” at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.
Ross 128B is the second-closest exoplanet to Earth that astronomers have found so far, according to Bonfils. He said that the closest is Proxima B, which orbits another red-dwarf star Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri emits much more radiation than Ross 128, however, and Proxima B receives too much of it to be conducive to life. Bonfils said that Ross 128 B looks much more promising, by comparison, but much would depend on the planet’s own ground conditions.
“We still need to know what the atmosphere of Ross 128 b is like. Depending on its composition and the reflectivity of its clouds, the exoplanet may be life friendly with liquid water as the Earth, or sterile like Venus,” Bonfils told the BBC.