By Sarah Begley
November 15, 2017

Astronomers have discovered a new exoplanet that may have the potential to host life, just 11 light-years away from Earth.

Ross 128 b is about the same size as Earth and orbits around a Red Dwarf star, Ross 128. It’s 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun, but its star is smaller and dimmer than the sun, so the planet is likely within the right temperature range for liquid water to exist.

The new discovery is now the second-closest known Earth-like planet to our solar system, after Proxima b, which is 4.2 light-years away. But Proxima b orbits another Red Dwarf star that is much more active, so the planet is likely exposed to more radiation. That makes the possibility of life there less likely than on Ross 128 b, according to researchers.

Scientists at the La Silla Observatory in Chile detected Ross 128 b using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), which measures wobbles in stars that have planets orbiting them. But researchers have more work to do before they can say whether life really is possible on Ross 128 b.

“We still need to know what the atmosphere of Ross 128 b is like,” co-discoverer Nicola Astudillo-Defru told BBC News. “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.”

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