Discovered Super-Earth ‘Ross 508b’, Located Just 37 Light-Years Away, May Possess Potential to Support Life…

“Are we alone in this universe?” is a question that many of us have considered. While humanity does not yet have definite answers to this question, scientists are continuously on the search for indicators that might point to the presence of alien life. And what better way to begin than by looking for other Earth-like planets that may be capable of sustaining life?

There has recently been a large influx of study into exoplanets, though the reason for these investigations differs among institutions. Some are just seeking for an answer to the alien life puzzle, while others are looking for a second home for us Earthlings.

We may have some good news for all you exoplanet fans now. The Subaru Strategic Program, launched in 2007 to deliver remarkable scientific results utilizing Japan’s Subaru Telescope, has assisted in the discovery of a super-Earth skimming the edges of a red dwarf star’s habitable zone, barely 37 light-years from our home planet!

The recently found Ross 508 planetary system is depicted graphically. The green region represents the habitable zone (HZ), which is a region on the planet’s surface where liquid water may exist. A blue line represents the planetary orbit. The planet is expected to be closer than the HZ (solid line) during more than half of its orbit and within the HZ (dashed line) for the remainder. (Astrobiology Institute)
This rocky world, known as Ross 508b, has a mass almost four times that of our globe.

A year on Ross 508b lasts only 11 Earth days! This, of course, means that its orbit is not very large — which is understandable because red dwarfs are a lot smaller than the Sun that centres our solar system.

However, due to their lesser sizes, their gravitational fields are not as expansive as the Sun’s. As a result, Ross 508b circles it at a distance of only 5 million kilometers. Mercury, for instance, is around 60 million kilometres from the Sun.

The short distance between this super-Earth and its red dwarf begs the question: how could it possibly be deemed habitable?

The relationship between red dwarfs and habitable planets
The orbit of Ross 508b is elliptical, which means it isn’t constantly as near to the star and dips in and out of the habitable zone.

A planet like this may be able to retain water on its surface. Whether or whether water or life can flourish there is still up for dispute and thorough investigation.

Three-quarters of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy are red dwarfs, which are smaller than the Sun and common in the solar neighbourhood. As a result, they are critical targets in humanity’s search for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life.

Red dwarfs, on the other hand, are colder than other types of stars and emit less visible light, making them difficult to study.

What makes this discovery even more remarkable is that it is the first exoplanet discovered by the Subaru Strategic Program utilizing the Subaru Telescope’s infrared spectrograph IRD (IRD-SSP).

IRD was established by the Astrobiology Center in Japan specifically to look for red dwarf-orbiting exoplanets like Ross 508b. It is based on a planet-hunting approach that searches for minute deviations in a star’s velocity to infer the existence of a planet orbiting it.

It is hardly a leap to think that the Subaru Telescope will provide us with even better candidates for habitable planets around red dwarfs.

“It has been 14 years since the beginning of IRD. We have continued our development and research with the hope of finding a planet exactly like Ross 508b,” said Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Professor Bun’ei Sato, the principal investigator of IRD-SSP.

This research has opened the door for future investigations to demonstrate the existence of life near low-mass stars.

The research findings have been reported in the Astronomical Society of Japan’s Publication, which can be seen here.

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