Earth-Like Planet Found Orbiting Nearest Star

/ 4 years ago

Earth-Like Planet Found Orbiting Nearest Star

Astrophysicists have discovered an Earth-like planet, capable of supporting life as we know it, orbiting the nearest star to our Solar system. The planet, dubbed “Proxima b”, is approximately 1.3-times the size of Earth and is positioned within the fabled circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ) of Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star 4.243 light years away.

“There is a reasonable expectation that this planet might be able to host life, yes,” Guillem Anglada-Escudé, co-author of the research from Queen Mary, University of London said (via The Guardian).

Being in the habitable zone, Proxima b could support liquid water – given the appropriate atmospheric pressure – which is vital to supporting life. While a number of such exoplanets have been discovered, Proxima b is by far the closest. However, using current technology, it would still take an unmanned craft around 70,000 years to travel to it.

proxima b zone

“Finding out that the nearest star to the sun hosts not just a planet, not just an Earth-sized planet, but one which is in the right location that it could support life – and there are a lot of caveats there – really underscores that not only are planets very common in our galaxy, but potentially habitable planets are common,” Eamonn Kerins, an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, added.

Proxima b was discovered after Anglada-Escudé and his team scrutinised the light emitted from Proxima Centauri, following previous hints that such a planet could exist. Examining the light data, the astrophysicists determined the existence of Proxima b through the duration of colour shifts in the star’s light, as detailed in a recent Nature article [PDF].

“What we basically do is measure how the star is moving,” Anglada-Escudé said. “If you have a planet around a star, the planet is also pulling the star a bit so you see the star is moving. It is going towards you and away from you, periodically.”

While speculation that Proxima b may be habitable is premature, according to Anglada-Escudé, the researchers are hopeful that further investigations into the planet’s potential to support life will yield promising results.

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