An international team of astronomers have recently found a rocky, Earth-like planet that orbits Proxima Centauri, our sun’s nearest neighbour.
There are a few key differences between this planet, Proxima b, and Earth. For one, it’s one-twentieth the distance from its red dwarf star compared to the Earth’s distance from our sun, giving it a permanently orange sky. It also circles the star so quickly that a year only lasts 11 days. Even though its 4.22 light-years away, it’s the “closest potentially habitable planet ever detected outside our solar system”. Because of its potential, nearness, and the fact that we don’t know that much about it yet, researchers are keen to get a closer look Proxima b.
Earlier this year, Breakthrough Starshot was announced. This project was created by a number of leaders in science and business like Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg. Breakthrough Starshot involves “a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour” to travel to these Earth-like planets and send pictures back to Earth.
They’re now hoping to include Proxima in their plans. That being said, these probes travel at one-fifth the speed of light, so it would take 20 years to reach the planet and another 4 to send photos and analysis of the planet’s magnetic fields back to Earth.
The ultimate goal is to find another habitable planet as close to Earth as possible to find a place for humanity to continue to thrive. While Proxima b looks promising, we still don’t know whether the planet even has an atmosphere. R. Paul Butler, co-author of this study, said “a habitable rocky planets around Proxima would be the most natural location to where our civilization could aspire to move after the sun will die, 5 billion years from now”.
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Featured image source: Space.com