Scientists have confirmed the existence of a rocky—and possibly wet—planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun. Dubbed Proxima b, the planet lies within the “habitable zone” of its star, meaning the planet’s surface could be warm enough, but not too warm, to support liquid water and thus be amenable for life.
Astronomers found Proxima b by analyzing Doppler data and other measurements from telescopes around the world, chiefly ESO telescopes mounted at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The results of the study were first reported in the journal Nature.
Located 4.2 light years away from Earth, Proxima b is notably the closest terrestrial planet outside our solar system ever found. While that might still seem like a haul, scientists believe the potential exists for robotic exploration of the world in the coming centuries. Researchers have already provided a snapshot of the planet, which likely [revolves around] its star every 11.2 days; is about 1.3 the mass of Earth; and is possibly tidally locked, meaning one half of the planet is forever bathed in light and radiation, while the outward-facing side remains dark.
Sarah Hörst, an assistant professor in the earth and planetary sciences department at Johns Hopkins University, offers some perspective on what some are calling “an astronomy dream come true” and Earth 2.0.
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