The exoplanet, Ross 128 b, has recently been found to have many of the conditions that could be ideal for life. Many scientists are speculating that this may be our best chance yet at finding life on another world.
Ross 128 b is an exoplanet a little less than 1.5 times the size of Earth, located just 11 light years away. While a light year is a pretty phenomenal distance by human standards, Ross 123 b might as well be right next door on a cosmic scale. The exoplanet was reportedly discovered by astronomers working in the Chilean desert. Using the radial velocity method. This method involves looking not for planets, which are typically too small to be visible against the backdrop of the stars they orbit. Rather, this method looks at the stars themselves, monitoring for any gravitational effects that might be caused by any large orbiting masses. While many planets out there have already been discovered, the conditions that could make a planet suitable for life are incredibly rare.
Earth is exactly the right distance from our sun to keep things nice and warm without getting too hot. It’s vitally important for life, at least on our planet, that water exists in a liquid form. This means that for a planet to have a chance at sustaining life, distance from its sun isn’t the only important factor. It also has to be the right type of sun. We’re pretty fortunate that our own Sol is, by and large, a nice calm example of a gargantuan ball of nuclear explosions. Other stars have been known to “act out”, with solar flares capable of evaporating the atmospheres of surrounding planets. Ross 128 b happens to be rotating around a relatively peaceful red dwarf and is rotating slowly enough to potentially contain an atmosphere. This might not sound like a lot to go on, but such ideal conditions are so rare that finding a planet like this at all is outstanding.
Ross 128 b is still a long way away from us, but, while other planets are closer, this really does seem like our best bet to date for finding life outside our own world. From this possibility, there are so many more questions. How developed might the life on such a planet be? Could there be intelligent beings? What about the possibilities for communication or even just discovering a new species of animal? In any case, unless we can figure out how to travel near light-speed, we probably won’t be finding out anytime too soon.