Some are thought to be potentially habitable, and some are incredibly hostile to life as we know it, but a new, potentially life-supporting world was just detected much closer than has been the norm, and it's giving astronomers a reason to get excited. If any extraterrestrial species do exist in our stellar neighborhood, this might be our best chance yet at finding them.
Scientist have discovered a nearby Earth-like exoplanet with conditions favorable to life. In this case, Ross 128b orbits its start at an extremely close distance, and completes and orbit once every 9.9 days.
The planet is around one and a half times the size of Earth, and researchers are obtaining proof that the planet is most likely rocky like Earth.
"Ross 128 b is the second closest known exo-Earth, after Proxima Centauri b (1.3 parsec), and the closest temperate planet known around a quiet star", researchers wrote in their study, which was published in Astronomy & Astrophysics on November 8.
Ross 128 b's red dwarf star, Ross 128, is particularly quiet, experts say. Ross 128 is the "quietest" nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet.
"This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques", Nicola Astudillo-Defru, astronomer at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said in a news release. In fact, lead author Xavier Bonfils (Institut de Planétologie et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble - Université Grenoble-Alpes/CNRS, Grenoble, France), named their HARPS program "The shortcut to happiness", as it is easier to detect small cool siblings of Earth around these stars, than around stars more similar to the Sun .
Though Ross 128b is an exoplanet present in close proximity - 11 lightyears away - and has the potential to host life, it's not the only one spotted this year, Bonfils explained.
Some Red Dwarf stars throw flares that bathe orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and x-ray radiation, but Ross 128 is a quiet star meaning the planets orbiting it are the closest known that could support life.
The newly discovered planet is called Ross 128b. Argument remains of whether the exoplanet might be in the habitable zone where liquid water could exist on its surface. Scientists also hope to learn more about the exoplanet's atmosphere.
Often, red dwarfs release periodic flares.
"New facilities at ESO will first play a critical role in building the census of Earth-mass planets amenable to characterisation".
The data from HARPS is used to estimate specific characteristic of an exoplanet such as the mass of the planet, its orbital period, and its distance from the host star.
 This is only possible for the very few exoplanets that are close enough to be angularly resolved from their stars.