Earth-like planet found in nearest solar system

Sunday, 28 Aug, 2016

Just over four light years away from Earth, a planet orbits its cool red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri, the sun's closest star neighbour.

Scientists recently discovered Proxima b, an exoplanet that could potentially host water and life.

Recent scientific developments point to the existence of an Earth-size planet orbiting the closest star to the Sun: Proxima Centauri (4.2 light years, 26 Trillion miles). Excitingly, the planet is the right distance from the star to fulfill the conditions necessary for liquid water to exist on its surface essential for a planet to support life.

Scientists discovered "Proxima b" with the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, and found a slight "wobble" of gravity tugging on the star Poxima Centauri.

Proxima b has an estimated temperature that - if water were present - would allow it in a liquid state on its surface, thus placing it within the so-called "habitable zone" around the star.

"We're talking about a planet that has very similar properties to Earth", says Guillem Anglada-Escude of Queen Mary University of London, who led the research team of more than 30 scientists around the world. "If you've got one in your backyard, it tells you that through the galaxy there are going to be many, many of these types of planets".

The nearest star to our solar system.

Yet, a number of questions about Proxima B are left unanswered. But because its star is a dim, cool red dwarf, the surface temperature on the rocky planet is likely to be around minus 40 Fahrenheit - otherwise known as winter in northern Minnesota.

"This work has resulted in the discovery of hundreds of planets around the nearest stars, and now a potentially habitable planet around the nearest star in the sky", Butler said in a statement.

The Vice President of Astronomy at the Houston Natural Museum of Science believes the planet dubbed Proxima B is pretty special. The team took pains to eliminate this possibility by monitoring the changing brightness of the star carefully during the campaign using the ASH2 telescope at the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations Observatory in Chile and the Las Cumbres Observatory. That means, unlike other exoplanets, we could actually find out firsthand what Proxima b is like and how well it matches up with scientists' expectations and, hey, if there is alien life there... bonus?