Off World

Proxima Centauri May Have An Earth-Like Planet Orbiting Around It

Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System, may have an Earth-Like planet.

The Best Candidate

Recently, a study revealed 20 potential ‘second Earth’ candidates from the Kepler list — making the search for life beyond our planet seem quite manageable.

Now, it could be a bit more manageable.

A report from German weekly Der Spiegel claims (although citing anonymous sources) that European astronomers have found a new Earth-like planet that is just near our home planet. The planet (still unnamed) was discovered to be orbiting Proxima Centauri — the closest star to our Solar System — and within the habitable zone that could allow the planet to hold liquid water on its surface.

So Near, Yet So Far

Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbour: Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye. Its average luminosity is very low, and it is quite small compared to other stars, at only about an eighth of the mass of the Sun. However, on occasion, its brightness increases. Proxima is what is known as a “flare star”, meaning that convection processes within the star’s body make it prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness. The convection processes not only trigger brilliant bursts of starlight but, combined with other factors, mean that Proxima Centauri is in for a very long life. Astronomers predict that this star will remain middle-aged — or a “main sequence” star in astronomical terms — for another four trillion years, some 300 times the age of the current Universe. These observations were taken using Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). Proxima Centauri is actually part of a triple star system — its two companions, Alpha Centauri A and B, lie out of frame. Although by cosmic standards it is a close neighbour, Proxima Centauri remains a point-like object even using Hubble’s eagle-eyed vision, hinting at the vast scale of the Universe around us.
Proxima Centauri. ESA/Hubble

Proxima Centauri is part of the Alpha Centauri system, which is the nearest stellar system to our Solar System, with a distance of about 4.35 light-years away.

But even though the planet was reported to be spotted “so close by,” it’s still too  far for our modern technology to reach. Take note: One light-year is the distance light travels in one year, and light travels at about 300,000 km (186,000 mi) per second   

But then again, the universe is a vast space. Studying an exoplanet within the vicinity of our neighbor star is probably the best shot we can ever get to finding life outside the Earth.

Der Spiegel was rather thrifty on details about the discovery but said that the European Southern Observatory (ESO) will announce the finding at the end of the month.

However, although aware of the magazine’s report, ESO spokesman Richard Hook neither confirmed nor denied it.

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