The new super-Earth, named Ross 508b, is 37 light-years from Earth, orbiting a red dwarf star in the constellation Crab.
According to SciTech Daily, Ross 508b has four times the mass of Earth and orbits so close to its parent star that a year there is only 11 days on Earth. However, the red dwarf is a much smaller and cooler star than the Sun, so its Goldilocks “habit zone” is also much closer. The orbit of super-Earth Ross 508b coincides largely with this habitable zone.
The red dwarf Ross 508 and the super-Earth Ross 508b orbit. The green highlighted area is the “life zone” of the star, the blue ellipse is the orbit of Ross 508b – Photo: ASTROBIOLOGY CENTER
Red dwarfs are stars that make up three-quarters of the stars in the Milky Way Earth-containing galaxy, but because they are small and dim, telescopes are difficult to observe.
Red dwarfs are easier to see at infrared wavelengths, so a team of scientists from Japan’s Center for Astrobiology designed a new infrared observation device, the infrared Doppler IRD, mounted into the telescope to increase the power of Subaru’s “magic eye”.
The Ross 508b was the first fruit of this innovation. This super-Earth has an elliptical orbit and, despite a short distance away from the star’s habitable zone, it is still perfectly capable of conserving liquid water – a prerequisite for life.
Even within the solar system, leading space agencies like NASA, ESA still pursue worlds beyond the habitable zone with near certainty, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, Enceladus moon and Titan of Saturn, even the dwarf planet Pluto.
According to Professor Bun’ei Sato from Tokyo Institute of Technology, a member of the IRD executive team, it has been 14 years since they started research and development on this technology and are trying to find more worlds like Ross. 508b.
As for Ross 508b, scientists will continue to pursue it and analyze the data in more detail for clues to water – if any – and other possible signs of life.
The study has just been published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.