Discovery of an Exoplanet within habitable zone around the star closest to Earth.

Astronomers involved in The Pale Dot Project found a potentially habitable planet orbiting Proxima Centauri.

Named Proxima Centauri b, the planet orbits its parent star Proxima Centauri in around 11 days, with surface temperature favourable for the presence of liquid water on its surface. This rocky world has a slightly bigger mass than Earth, and within the distance of 4.25 light years away, it is the closest planet orbiting its parent star within the habitable zone outside the Solar System.

The team of astronomers lead by Guillem Anglada-Escudѐ from Queen Mary University of London, observed Proxima Centauri using the HARPS spectrograph and the ESO 3.6 meters telescope at la Silla in Chile and employed the Radial Velocity method. They noticed Doppler shifts of about 5km/hour within the movement of the star, suggesting the presence of a planet with a mass of at least 1.3 Earth masses, orbiting the Proxima Centauri every 11.2 days, with the distance of 7 million kilometres, an equivalent of a 5% of the Sun-to-Earth distance (AU). To ensure that the movement observed by the team is not associated with star activity, Proxima Centauri has been observed simultaneously from different telescopes around the world as a part of the Pale Red Dot campaign.

Proxima Centauri b is orbiting a red dwarf- a low mass and low luminosity star, which means that its orbit is well within the star habitable zone, even at the distance of only 0.05AU.

The above fact and proximity to our Solar System places Proxima Centauri b as a prime candidate for further research. Currently beyond reach for the observational astronomy, within the near future, a very high resolution telescopes with extremely adaptive optics that are currently build, like E-ELT, TMT, or GMT might resolve the image of this planet; It could be also a target for a future space missions.

 earth_proxb_compared.jpg

References:

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/2016/0824-proxima-centauri-b-have-we.html

http://www.eso.org/public/unitedkingdom/news/eso1629/

Featured image by:

http://www.astronomy.com/news/2016/12/contact-with-proxmina-centauri-b

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