A new exoplanet candidate, named Proxima b has been discovered inside the habitable zone of Proxima Centaur which is a red dwarf star in our closest neighbor star system, the Alpha Centauri, claim European Sothern Observatory (ESO) officials.
This means that an Earth-like planet could live close to us, or just 4.2 light years away, with potential to support life. However a further research is needed in order to confirm these characteristics of its atmosphere and the possibility of liquid water on the surface. A team from ESO has plans on how to get us there.
“These are extraordinary news because exoplanets have been found and much more will be discovered in the future, but searching for the closest potential Earth-analog and succeeding in it has been the experience of a lifetime for all of us,” said Guillem Anglada-Escudé, a team member from the Queen Mary University of London.
This newly discovered exoplanet candidate, named Proxima b, orbits Proxima Centauri or a red dwarf that lies within the Alpha Centauri star system in the constellation known as Centaurus. This star system is the closes one to Earth, making this exoplanet candidate the closest Earth-like exoplanet ever found.
“We are really excited because the proximity of the exoplanet can’t get any better”, said Michael Endl, part of the team from the University of Texas, located in Austin.
The team includes researchers from the ESO and a program named “The Pale Red Dot campaign”. They were able to find this new planet candidate by observations on Proxima Centauri. The observation was during the first half of 2016, and after that they compared the data with previous observations from the past 16 years, collected from all over the world.
In these 16 years they collected worth of data that is enough for statistical evidence for the existence of this new planet.
“I kept checking the consistency of the signal every day during the two months of the Pale Red Dot campaign. The first 10 had promising results, the first 20 were consistent with expectations, and at 30 days the result was definitive so we started drafting the paper!” said Anglada-Escudé.
The information we know so war are that Proxima b is roughly 1.3 times the size of Earth and most probably very rocky. Also, it orbits roughly 8.92 million kilometers from Proxima Centauri which takes around 11.2 days to complete its orbit. The surface temperature is very low or around -40 degrees Celsius, and there exists a possibility that it harbors a survivable atmosphere and liquid water on the surface. This would be the key for life to form on the planet, although to confirm this theory further observations areneeded. Fortunately, the team says Proxima b is in range of probes, which means one day in the near future we would be able to send a spacecraft there to take pictures.
The research team has plans for collaboration with Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking, and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who recently announced a US$130 million project called Starshot that will send a tiny spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in hopes of finding life.
The Starshot team hopes to send their spacecraft out to Alpha Centauri within the next 30 years. As their project continues, we will hopefully figure out much more about this new exoplanet Proxima b.