A newly discovered planet, 1.3 times the size of Earth, is orbiting our nearest neighbouring star Proxima Centauri, and it might be habitable, according to a team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope in Chile.
The Centauri system consists of three stars. There is the Alpha Centauri binary made up of two stars similar to our sun, and then the much smaller Proxima Centauri that orbits them.
Proxima Centauri lies just over 4 light years away and the newly discovered exoplanet named Proxima b, is at a distance from its star that allows temperatures mild enough for liquid water to pool on its surface; known as the ‘Goldilocks Zone’.
The likelihood of finding liquid water (or even life) on Proxima b depend on the atmospheric composition. It could be vaguely Earth-like or more like Mars. At just 4.2 light years away, there’s a good chance that astronomers can characterize the atmosphere and surface of Proxima b in a way that we haven’t been able to with exoplanets that are dozens or hundreds of light years away.
“NASA congratulates ESO on the discovery of this intriguing planet that has captured the hopes and the imagination of the world. We look forward to learning more about the planet, whether it holds ingredients that could make it suitable for life.”
The science team that made the discovery, led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London, using the Doppler shift method; where ‘wobbles’ in a star’s radial velocity alters the colour of the light observed by astronomers, inferring the presence of a body orbiting the star.
The team traced subtle wobbles in the star revealing the presence of a star-tugging exoplanet, this new planet orbits its star so closely it takes only 11 days to complete a single orbit, a ‘year’ on Proxima b.