A planet the same size as Earth and with a similar surface temperature may be ‘the closest known comfortable abode for possible life,’ according to a new study.
The newly discovered world, named Ross 128b, was found orbiting a red dwarf star 11 light-years away from Earth.
With current technology, it would take us around 141,000 years to reach the planet.
Although it is currently 11 light-years from Earth, the planet is moving towards us, and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbour in ‘just’ 79,000 years – a blink of the eye in cosmic terms.
Astronomers working with the European Southern Observatory’s High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile found that the red dwarf star Ross 128 is orbited by a low-mass ‘exoplanet’ every 9.9 days.
The star was named after the Californian astronomer Frank Elmore Ross who discovered it.
The Earth-sized world is expected to be temperate, with a surface temperature that may also be close to that of the Earth.
Ross 128 is the ‘quietest’ nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet.
Study co-author Dr Nicola Astudillo-Defru, of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said: ‘This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques.
‘Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations.’
Red dwarfs are some of the coolest, faintest – and most common – stars in the universe.
These qualities make them very good targets in the search for exoplanets and so they are increasingly being studied.
Lead author Dr Xavier Bonfils, of Université Grenoble in France, named the HARPS programme ‘the shortcut to happiness’ as it is easier to detect small cool siblings of Earth around these stars, than around stars more similar to the Sun.
But speaking to National Geographic, he added: ‘There wasn’t a ‘eureka’ moment here where we were able to suddenly say, wow, we have a planet.
‘We accumulated data over many years, and only gradually the signal built up and became significant.’
Many red dwarf stars, including Proxima Centauri, are subject to flares that occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk