Whole new world

Scientists discover a potentially habitable ‘second Earth’
By Alex James Taylor | Current affairs | 25 August 2016

Top image: An artist’s impression of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. (Credit- ESO:M. Kornmesser)

An international team of scientists claim they have found an Earth-like planet just outside the solar system which might be viable for holding water and supporting life.

Investigations of Proxima Centauri, the nearest to our solar system, revealed the orbiting Earth-sized planet that has been christened Proxima b. A mere 4.22 light-years from Earth, or nearly 25 trillion miles (in space-talk, this is just around the corner) Proxima b lies in the so-called “habitable zone” of Proxima Centauri. The habitable zone is a range within the orbits around a star which is neither too hot nor too cold, and is hence perfect to sustain liquid water, very much like our own Earth.

An artist’s impression shows the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri (Credit- ESO:M. Kornmesser)

As reported by The Independent, Dr Guillem Anglada-Escude, from Queen Mary University of London, who led the “Pale Red Dot” team said: “Succeeding in the search for the nearest terrestrial planet beyond the solar system has been an experience of a lifetime, and has drawn on the dedication and passion of a number of international researchers.

It’s one giant step for scientists, who have been on the lookout for a potentially habitable planet for around 21 years, ever since Swiss astronomers found one orbiting 51 Pegasus back in 1995. Thought to be at least 1.3 times the mass of the Earth, Proxima b is far closer to its star than we are, taking just 11.2 days to complete one orbit and sitting only 5% as far away from its star as we do from ours. Findings show that the planet doesn’t rotate, so one side is always facing its star and the other side is always dark and colder.

And the next potential find may come soon. There’s a periodic signal that hints a second planet — Proxima c — could be lurking in the data. But they’ll need many more nights at the telescope to be certain it’s not just the machinations of a violent star. Watch this space (quite literally).

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