Scientists announce discover of a new exoplanet and its near.
A planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System, has been found by an international team of scientists led by astronomers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Proxima B is the closest Exoplanet found to date.
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Proxima b, orbits its parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth, and is the closest planet outside our Solar System. Planets around other stars are commonly referred to as exoplanets.
Scientists are excited because Proxima b may also be the closest possible home for life outside the Solar System.
Lead author and coordinator of the project, Dr Guillem Anglada-Escudé from QMUL’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Succeeding in the search for the nearest terrestrial planet beyond our Solar System has been an experience of a lifetime, and has drawn on the dedication and passion of a number of international researchers. We hope these findings inspire future generations to keep looking beyond the stars. The search for life on Proxima b comes next."
Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star that is four-light years from the Solar System and yet is the closest star to Earth apart from the Sun. This ‘cool’ star in the constellation of Centaurus is too faint to be seen with the unaided eye and lies near to the much brighter pair of stars known as Alpha Centauri AB.
Professor Hugh Jones from University of Hertfordshire explained: “Initial observations of the planet were made more than 15 years ago in March 2000. We first submitted a scientific paper presenting the planets existence back in February 2013. My colleague Dr Mikko Tuomi also from the University of Hertfordshire had discovered the planet's fingerprints in archived data taken before 2009, but we didn’t have enough evidence to conclusively support such a major discovery.”
This discovery will be the beginning of extensive further observations, both with current instruments and with the next generation of giant telescopes such as ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Proxima b will be a prime target for the hunt for evidence of life elsewhere in the Universe.
The Proxima B findings have been published in a paper in journal Nature.