Astronomers find second Earth just 4.25 light-years away

ESO astronomers with the Pale Red Dot project announced the presence of a habitable planet orbiting our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri. Pictured, an artistic rendering shows what the red dwarf star might look like from the surface of the newly discovered exoplanet, Proxima b. Photo by ESO/M. Kornmesser

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Aug. 24 (UPI) — An Earth-like exoplanet orbits our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, 4.25 light-years away. Astronomers with the European Southern Observatory announced the news at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Scientist say the alien world, dubbed Proxima b, has a surface temperature suitable for liquid water, meaning the exoplanet is habitable and could host life.

Astronomers first noticed the suggestion of an alien world at Proxima Centauri in 2013, but the red dwarf star is so faint — and constantly outshined by the stellar duo Alpha Centauri AB — that confirming the presence of an exoplanet proved extremely difficult.

To find definitive evidence of Proxima b, scientists at ESO initiated the Pale Red Dot project. As part of the research effort, astronomers pointed several powerful telescopes at the red dwarf with the hope of catching the star’s wobble, the push and pull caused by the orbit of Proxima b.

Two years later and astronomers have the evidence they need to confirm the exoplanet’s presence.

A new paper on the exoplanet is set to be published this week in the journal Nature.

Though Proxima b orbits in just 11 days, its temperature is relatively moderate thanks to the modest size of its host star. However, the exoplanet’s intimate position likely leaves it more vulnerable to solar flares, storms and other radiation events. Researchers also believe Proxima b is without seasons.

So far, scientists know relatively little about Proxima b. But as more and more astronomers turn their attention to a possible neighboring Earth, researchers are hopeful new insights aren’t far off.

“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,” ESO astronomer Guillem Anglada-Escudé said in a news release.

“Many people’s stories and efforts have converged on this discovery. The result is also a tribute to all of them. The search for life on Proxima b comes next.”


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