New Planet Discovered Most Likely Candidate For Life Yet

first_img Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend Stay on target Astronomers have announced that a brand new Earth-like planet has been discovered orbiting a nearby star — and this one holds the best chance yet for life. The star, Ross 128, is a calm red dwarf sitting about 11 light years away. That puts it quite a bit further than our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri. And it’s also relatively desolate, so far as we can tell — with just one major, Earth-sized planet that we can detect. But the key here is that Ross 128 is a far more relaxed star than the likes of TRAPPIST-1 or other nearby stellar friends.That’s important, scientists believe because it creates conditions more favorable for life. It’s hard to survive when your parent star is constantly slinging radioactive flares, or rapidly heating or cooling. Proxima, for instance, pelts its planets with high-energy flares all the time. On top of being dangerous for life on its own, these flares can also strip the atmospheres of their planets, weakening any natural radiation shielding that the planet would otherwise enjoy.Life doesn’t like that though. Life likes stability. It likes steady changes over time. And, many of the stars we’ve found planets zipping around thus far are… well… rowdy. “Those flares can sterilize the atmosphere of the planet,” astrophysicist Xavier Bonfils told the New York Times. “Ross 128b is one of the quietest stars in the neighborhood.”All of this and it sits right in the habitable zone of the star, meaning that it’s in an area where conditions may be right for liquid water. Combined with the relatively laidback nature of Ross, we now have our best candidate yet for a life-sustaining world beyond our own system.These findings were published in the academic journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The team observed the planet using the perturbations in the star’s light caused by the planet. From that reading, astronomers have estimated the new planet is roughly one and a half times the mass of the earth.There is one big catch, however. The planet is much closer to its star and that, combined with the types of radiation the star emits means that life on Ross 128b would be subject to many times the x-ray and ultraviolet radiation. That could still be enough to torch the atmosphere. Still, this is the best shot we’ve got yet.“There is potential for an atmosphere and hence habitability,” William Danchu, a NASA astrophysicist said. “This is an important discovery and well worth many follow-up studies.”It’s fortunate, then that a new crop of telescopes will be able to yield more detailed measurements about the planet, including what types of gases it has in its atmosphere. If we also detect oxygen and nitrogen — which should be relatively easy — then we’ll have a better idea of whether it can sustain life. Science!One final bummer, though, would be the fact that even if it does show some positive signs of life, it’s going to take a while to get there. Even our best ships would take millennia. Space is vast and even our nearest neighbors are many, many years away. But it might be nice, even if we never cross paths, that we aren’t alone in the universe.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img