Howdy, interstellar neighbourino

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
A small, rocky planet orbiting the Sun's closest neighbouring star has been discovered, and it might have water on it, according to a team of international scientists. The planet is just over four light years away and is likely to be warm and around the same mass as Earth, but orbits its star twenty times closer than Earth orbits the Sun, according to the study. Researchers say that it might have water on it but might also face much stronger X-ray fluxes than Earth, and possibly without a protective magnetic field like Earth has.

Journal/conference: Nature

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Media Release

From: Springer Nature

An Earth-like planet around the Sun’s closest neighbour

The discovery of a small, rocky planet candidate orbiting the Sun’s closest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri, is reported in this week’s Nature. The planet, named Proxima b, has a mass about 1.3 times that of the Earth and its temperature is within the range where water could theoretically be liquid on its surface.

Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star that lies just over four light years from our Solar System and that is one of the best-studied low-mass stars. Guillem Anglada-Escudé and colleagues analysed Doppler measurements collected by two European Southern Observatory telescopes between 2000 and 2014 and a series of observations collected between 19 January and 31 March 2016. Doppler data can be used to measure tiny movements of a host star that result from the gravitational pull of a potential orbiting planet. The authors’ observations are consistent with the presence of a warm, Earth-mass planet that orbits Proxima Centauri every 11.2 days at a distance of about 7.5 million kilometres, or around 5 per cent of the Earth–Sun distance. The orbital period places Proxima b within the temperate zone of its star, which means the planet’s surface temperature could, in principle, support liquid water.

The habitability of planets like Proxima b — in terms of sustaining an atmosphere and liquid water — is debated, and further research will be needed over the next decades to attempt to characterize the planet’s atmosphere and assess whether it could support life. Moreover, Proxima b’s close orbit around its star means that the planet suffers from X-ray fluxes that are much more intense than those experienced by Earth; it is unknown whether the planet has a protective magnetic field as Earth does.

In the coming centuries, robotic exploration of Proxima b may become possible. “Proxima Centauri will exist for several hundreds or thousands of times longer than the Sun,” concludes Artie Hatzes in an accompanying News & Views article. “Any life on the planet could still be evolving long after our Sun has died.”

We are aware that there have been rumours regarding this discovery. These rumours have never been confirmed and have not contained any research content. Whilst the rumours are in the public domain and can be reported, the information above, the paper itself and the announcement have been provided on an embargoed basis and therefore remain strictly under embargo. We would be grateful if any questions or concerns are addressed to us before any action is taken. We thank you for your consideration in this matter.

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    The exoplanet next door Credit: Nature video. You are welcome to embed this video on your website, but please don’t download the file and re-publish it via your own video player.
  • Springer Nature
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    stronomers have discovered evidence of a small, rocky planet orbiting our nearest star – and it may even be a bit like Earth. Credit: Nature Video. You are welcome to embed this video on your website, but please don’t download the file and re-publish it via your own video player.
  • Credit: ESO./L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)
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    This video shows an artist’s impression of a trip from Earth (the Pale Blue Dot) to Proxima b, a Pale Red Dot orbiting the closest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri. As we leave the Solar System we see the familiar constellation figures including the Southern Cross (Crux) and the bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. We gradually close in on a faint red star, this is Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth and the faintest component of a triple star system. The final part shows the planet Proxima b, the closest exoplanet to the Solar System. Credit: ESO./L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)
  • Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser
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    This artist’s impression video shows a view of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image between Proxima and the planet. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

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