By Michal Nowacki
For years now, astronomers have been pondering over the question: "Is there life nearby?". As it turns out, we are ever so close to finding an answer.
A new, potentially habitable planet has just been discovered orbiting around the star Ross 128. A relatively quiet and old M-Dwarf star, it has been under our watch for a long time. The planet was found using the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher) instrument at the European Southern Observatory.
The only confirmed habitable nearby planet used to be Proxima Centauri β, however it has been ruled out because its parent star, Proxima Centauri, is still active and continuously blasts the planet with dangerous and scorching stellar radiation. This means any chance of life or an atmosphere on Proxima Centauri β was likely wiped out a long time ago. Meanwhile, Ross 128b would not have a hard time holding onto an atmosphere, because its star is a relatively quiet and old one, meaning it has long ended its hiatus of activity.
Scientists do have doubts, however, because the planet is likely to be tidally locked; just like our moon, which would mean that one side is constantly facing the star, and one always in darkness. They don't know if this fact will affect its habitability, but probably not, because the edges of the terminator (the line between light and dark) is probably optimally heated. The discovered planet is only 11 light years away, which is still a very long distance, but certainly within the reach of any future near-light-speed technologies. If we could travel at the speed of light, it would take 11 years to get there.
Whatever the conditions on the surface are, this is just another example of the constant progress and success in search that astronomers are doing, and that we should be grateful for.
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