The planet, known as Ross 128 b, is located a mere 11 light-years from Earth, and will one day become the closest exoplanet to our Sun, dethroning our current immediate neighbor exoplanet - Proxima b.
Red dwarf stars are some of the coolest, faintest and more common stars in the universe which makes them prime candidates for finding planets which could potentially support life. "Some [computer] models say the planet is close enough that it could have lost its atmosphere". In addition, it's the closest planet to have been observed orbiting an inactive red dwarf star - an arrangement that may raise the likelihood that it could sustain life.
In other words, the planet makes the star wobble as it rotates, astronomers were able to measure the wobble with HARPS, and that measurement revealed some key information about the planet, such as its mass and how far away it is from the host star.
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet in the same solar system where "alien signals" were detected earlier this year. In June, one was discovered in the orbit of GJ 625, around 21 light-years away, and in August, an exoplanet was spotted in a system that's just 16 light-years away. Ross 128 is the nearest "quietest" star to become a host such a temperate exoplanet.
"Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations", explains Nicola Astudillo-Defru (Geneva Observatory - University of Geneva, Switzerland), who co-authored the discovery paper. Ross 128 b also orbits a red dwarf, but its star is much less active, so the surface of the planet is likely more temperate. For that reason, the scientists refer to Ross 128 b as "the best temperate planet known to date". But Proxima b's parent star, Proxima Centauri, blasts out a lot of powerful flares, potentially bathing that planet in enough radiation to stunt the emergence and evolution of life, scientists have said.
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As for Ross 128 b, Bonfils told Futurism one forthcoming telescope in particular should prove useful for further study.
The newly discovered exoplanet orbits its star 20 times closer than Earth orbits the sun. So unfortunately, it would be a stretch to label Ross 128 b as "potentially habitable".
There's still uncertainty about whether Ross 128 b is within the habitable zone, but scientists say that with temperatures of between -60 and +20°C, it can be considered temperate. 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.
Alongside the ESA, NASA's Kepler space telescope has also been hunting for exoplanets and since 2009 has found some 30 planets that fall within their host star's habitable zone. The star is moving toward us, and will overtake Proxima Centauri as the closest sun to ours in about 79,000 years.
When Méndez's team looked at the results, they saw something peculiar: some odd, semi-repeating signals coming from Ross 128.