Earth-mass temperate exoplanet found close by

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A newly discovered star, known as Ross 128 b, has been held up as our most likely neighbour that could support life.

The new planet was discovered by an worldwide team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in the high desert of Chile. If the planet is too close to the star, its water would evaporate; too far away and the water would freeze into ice.

For starters, Ross 128b's host star, referred to as a "quiet" M dwarf by the study's authors, has been very kind to the exoplanet.

The astronomers did not directly see the planet but instead used a telescope in Chile to measure wobbles in the wavelengths of light coming from the star. Ross 128 b will be a prime target for ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which will be able to search for biomarkers in the planet's atmosphere.

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The system is moving toward Earth, and in just 79,000 years, it will be the closest exoplanet to our solar system. That would be the sun's next door neighbor, Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light-years away. Determining whether the planet is actually capable of supporting life as we know it, however, would require a better understanding of its atmosphere, Bonfils said.

"An important discovery from Europe reveals a likely terrestrial, Earth-mass planet only 11 light-years away", NASA's Exoplanet Exploration team reports in a news release. If we have, it'll not only offer the potential to see what another planet like our own looks like - but potentially to meet the aliens that live there, or to move there ourselves.

"Because Proxima Centauri blasts its planet with strong flares and high energy radiation, yes, I think Ross 128 is much more comfortable for the development of life", Dr. Nicola Astudillo-Defru, one of the researchers on the project, told BBC News.

The closest one, known as Proxima b, may be less hospitable for life. 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.

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The big question: Is Ross 128 b habitable?

While researchers have expressed excitement over the discovery, the ESO notes: "Uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet's surface".

Third, the planet may sit within the habitable zone of its host star.

But the star system this new planet is orbiting, called Ross 128, is much quieter, giving hope it could provide a suitable habit for life. Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory had picked up the broadband signals, which were described as semi-periodic pulses, and their mysterious nature got a lot of people excited about the prospect that they were a message from aliens.

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When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some odd, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128.