The new planet that could support alien life

Whole new world: An artist’s impression of what the planet might look like. © The European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Should we go looking for aliens? Ross 128 b is a newly discovered planet, eleven light years away. It has just the right conditions for life, but some fear what would happen if we found it.

What’s happening

Astronomers have found a new “Earth-like” exoplanet called Ross 128 b. It is slightly larger than Earth, orbiting a small star 11 light years away. Scientists say that its temperature is around 23°C — ideal for supporting life. In fact, it is now the most likely home to aliens that we know of.

Find out more

The star that Ross 128 b orbits is a red dwarf. This means it is not as powerful as our Sun, but the Earth-like planet is much closer to its sun, so the temperatures are not too different. The star is also “quiet” — unlike the stars of other Earth-like planets, it does not regularly emit deadly flares of radiation.

All this makes it “a comfortable abode for possible life”.

The search for intelligent alien life has increased in the last decade. Earlier this year, China unveiled the world’s largest radio dish, and the first which has been specifically designed to look for signals from an alien civilisation. It is sensitive enough to search tens of thousands of stars for the kind of radio waves produced by technology.

Is looking for aliens a good idea?

Some say…

Of course — there is so much to learn from another intelligent species! The human race is quite young in scientific terms, so the aliens would probably have more advanced technologies. They will have evolved in a totally different way to Earth’s life, which would teach us more about biology. Best of all, we will no longer be alone in the universe.

Others think…

It is a terrible idea. There is no way of knowing how peaceful these aliens would be. Throughout human history, the discovery of new societies has usually ended in the less advanced one being wiped out — just look at Columbus and the Native Americans. Searching for aliens essentially means we are inviting this destruction to our door.

You Decide

  1. Will finding aliens be a good thing?

Activities

  1. Imagine that scientists have managed to contact an alien race. Through an advanced form of technology, humanity is able to communicate with it and translate its messages. The aliens say that they are peaceful.
  2. The scientists then ask the world to submit questions for the aliens. Which three would you send?
  3. Share your questions with the rest of the class. If you have time, discuss what the answers might be.

Some People Say...

“The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

Carl Sagan

What do you think?

Word Watch

Exoplanet
A planet orbiting a star other than our own.
Light years
The distance covered while travelling at light speed for one year.
Red dwarf
A small, cool star.
Radiation
A wave of energy.
Civilisation
An advanced society.
Radio waves
The weakest form of electromagnetic radiation.
Evolved
How species developed over time.
Columbus
Christopher Colombus, famous for the discovery of America.
Native Americans
After America was discovered, thousands were killed thanks to war and diseases.

Subjects

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