Earth-Like Exoplanet Found Around Proxima Centauri
World | August 25th, 2016, 17:46 CEST | by Kovu
A team led by Dr. Guillem Anglada-Escudé from Queen Mary University of London discovered a promising exoplanet in terms of habitability, orbiting Proxima Centauri - the closest star to our Sun.
The new planet, named "Proxima b", appears to be discovered at the right time for another project announced by Steven Hawking earlier this year: Breakthrough Starshot. The Breakthrough-Starshot-team plans to send light-propelled nanocrafts 40 trillion km to the Alpha Centauri system, right where Proxima Centauri and its orbiting planet reside.
Proxima b is slightly larger than Earth and sits within Proxima Centauri's habitable zone, where liquid water could theoretically exist on the surface.
"Many exoplanets have been found and many more will be found, but searching for the
closest potential Earth-analogue and succeeding has been the experience of a lifetime
for all of us," Dr. Anglada-Escudé said.
"The search for life on Proxima b comes next…"
On hearing the news Breakthrough Starshot’s chairman Professor Avi Loeb from Harvard
University described Proxima b as "an obvious target for a flyby mission," which
could "take color images of the planet and infer whether it is green and harboring life,
blue with water oceans on its surface, or just brown, dry rock."
Prof. Loeb added that because the lifetime of the star is several trillion years, "a
habitable rocky planet around Proxima would be the most natural location to where our
civilization could aspire to move after the Sun will die, five billions years from now."
Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees who sits on the project’s Advisory Board said: "it is
excellent news to have strong evidence for a planet around such a nearby star, on which
perhaps life could have emerged."
Professor Ed Turner, from Princeton University, another member of the Breakthrough
Starshot project advisory board, described the newly discovered planet as "the single
most promising exoplanet discovered to date in terms of habitability."
"That this planet is orbiting the nearest star to the Sun is an extraordinary and wonderful
piece of good luck. It could hardly be more exciting from the perspectives of both
astrobiology and interstellar flight," he added.
The discovery of Proxima b was made with the ESO 3.6-m telescope at La Silla in Chile. The wobble the scientists discovered shows Proxima Centauri approaching the Earth at about 5 km per hour and then receding at the same speed. This pattern repeats every 11.2 days, and when compared against natural fluctuations in the star's brightness indicated the presence of a planet slightly more massive than the Earth, orbiting its star at only 5% of the distance from our planet to the Sun. The fact that Proxima Centuri is much fainter than our Sun keeps Proxima b in the habitable zone.