Scientists discover 'nearby' Earth-like planet that could potentially support life

Ross 128 b is only 11 light years - but it remains uncertain if it exists in a zone where liquid water can exist

Scientists discover 'nearby' Earth-like planet that could potentially support life

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

A new earth-like planet has been found, only 11 light years from our solar system.

Scientists think 'Ross 128 b' - which is around the same size as Earth, with a surface temperature that could also be similar to our planet - may be capable of sustaining life.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) says it is the second-closest temperate planet to Earth yet discovered - and it is also moving closer, meaning it will be closer than our existing 'closest neighbour' in 79,000 years.

It is also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which scientists say increases the potential for sustaining life.

A red dwarf is a particularly faint & cool star, and astronomers say it is easier to detect Earth-like planets orbiting around them than it is detecting ones that orbit around stars similar to our Sun.

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."

Once an exoplanet is discovered, scientists look to determine more details about the planet's make-up - in particular whether the presence of key life-supporting molecules such as oxygen are present.

This image shows the sky around the red dwarf star Ross 128 in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). Credit: Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin