Another Earth could be circling the star right next door to us.
Astronomers announced on Wednesday that they had detected a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest neighbor to our solar system. Intriguingly, the planet is in the star’s “Goldilocks zone,” where it may be neither too hot nor too cold. That means liquid water could exist at the surface, raising the possibility for life.
Although observations in recent years, particularly by NASA’s Kepler planet-finding mission, have uncovered a bounty of Earth-size worlds throughout the galaxy, this one holds particular promise because it might someday, decades from now, be possible to reach. It’s 4.2 light-years, or 25 trillion miles, away from Earth, which is extremely close in cosmic terms.
One astronomer likened it to a flashing neon sign. “I’m the nearest star, and I have a potentially habitable planet!” said R. Paul Butler, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science and a member of the team that made the discovery.
Guillem Anglada-Escudé, an astronomer at Queen Mary University of London and the leader of the team that made the discovery reported in the journal Nature, said, “We know there are terrestrial planets around many stars, and we kind of expected the nearby stars would contain terrestrial planets. This is not exciting because of this. The excitement is because it is the nearest one.”