Screenshot via NASA.

A little less than 11 light years from our solar system, in the constellation Virgo, lives a red dwarf star called Ross 128. There’s nothing inherently special about Ross 128; it’s a typical red dwarf star, one of the hundreds of billions throughout the Milky Way. But orbiting this faint solar neighbor is the closest potentially habitable Earth-like planet astronomers have ever detected, called Ross 128 b.

The nearest Earth-like exoplanet to us, Proxima b, orbits Proxima Centauri less than four light years away, but because of Proxima Centauri’s young age and frequent bursts of radiation, it is not believed to be habitable. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf and is the Sun’s closest known stellar neighbor. Ross 128 is currently drifting toward our solar system, and in about 79,000 years, it will become our nearest celestial neighbor.

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Rending of Kepler credit: NASA Ames/ W Stenzel

[DIGEST: Washington Post, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Universe Today, The Atlantic]

The Internet has been alight with speculation about the existence of alien megastructures since the publication of a paper about the star KIC 8462852 in early September. The star is one of more than 150,000 being monitored by the Kepler Space Telescope in the hopes of finding one orbited by an Earth-like planet.

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