Nearby planet that could support life discovered

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A newly discovered Earth-size planet that could sustain life is poised to become Earth's closest stellar neighbor in a cosmic "blink of the eye", scientists at the European Southern Observatory announced in a press release today.

Similar to Earth, the "exoplanet" orbits a sun, or a red dwarf star, named Ross 128 at distance that is beneficial for the development of life. It is now the second-closest temperate planet to Earth, after Proxima b.

While Ross 128 b could support life, the best candidate for a life-supporting planet in our vicinity remains Proxima Centauri b, which is 4.3 light years away.

The High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPs) looks for tiny wobbles in a star's motion caused by its gravitational interaction with planets orbiting it. But it doesn't get broiled because the red dwarf star is cool.

The star's inactivity means the new world is not prone to potentially devastating and life-ending radiation, despite receiving 38 per cent more radiation than Earth does.

This artist's impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background.

And according to scientists, the exoplanet appears to meet some of the basic requirements to sustain life.

Dr Nicola Astudillo-Defru, who co-authored the study, said the state-of-the-art telescope's ability to find new planets is unmatched. "But we still need to know what the atmosphere of Ross 128 b is like".

They include the ESO's 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope under construction in Chile which is due to begin operating in 2024.

Astronomers will also study the planet's composition and chemistry in more detail.

ESO also released a video about the new planet's significance Wednesday.

"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".

Crucially, the planet falls within a "habitable zone" - a relatively small area in which water can exist as liquid.

ESO published its full findings in the scientific journal Astronomy and Astrophysics on November 8.

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