Astronomers led by Queen Mary University of London discovered clear evidence of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth apart from the sun. In their study published in the journal Nature on Aug. 25, this planet named Proxima b is said to have temperatures good enough for liquid water to pool on its surface.
Proxima b orbits Proxima Centauri every 11 days. This planet is the closest planet from us where life could exist, although the team believes that the planet does not have the same seasons as we experience here on Earth.
The findings were made possible with a European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescope in La Silla in Chile. Apparently, the first signs of the planet’s existence were first seen in 2013. However, according to the lead researcher from the Queen Mary University of London, Guillem Anglada-Escudé, these were not convincing enough.
The distance between Proxima b and the red dwarf star is nearer than Mercury is to the sun. Proxima Centauri is fainter in comparison to the sun.
Consequently, the planet is situated within the habitable zone and this allows its temperature to be not too cold or hot for liquid water to exist on the surface. Nevertheless, scientists say that Proxima b’s surface receives more intense ultraviolet and x-ray rays from Proxima Centauri than our planet gets from the sun.
Further investigations are still required, the research team asserts. They plan to use the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) to gather more insights about the planet.
“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. Many people’s stories and efforts have converged on this discovery,” says Guillem Anglada-Escudé in a press release. “The result is also a tribute to all of them. The search for life on Proxima b comes next.”