Astronomers may have found another Earth-like planet, and it is very close to us in cosmic terms. Orbiting a star named Proxima Centauri, the planet circles within the so-called “Goldilocks zone,” allowing for surface temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold. Scientists think this habitable zone increases the chances that liquid water exists on the planet, making it easier for life to take hold.

So close, yet so far

While astronomers have found numerous other planets similar to Earth, this one is particularly exciting. At 25 trillion miles away, Proxima Centauri is our closest neighboring star.

Yet, despite that distance, scientists think technology will eventually develop to make it possible to visit the planet.

Other than the size and distance from its parent star, not much else is known about the Earth-like planet. By using different computer models, astronomers think the planet could closely resemble Earth, but it also could be more like Venus or Mars.

Proxima Centauri’s light led to the discovery

The planet has been named Proxima b and no pictures exist as of yet. The planet was discovered by analyzing the light of Proxima Centauri. Through careful measurements, the astronomers noticed clocklike variations in the starlight. The color of the light would shift from reddish to bluish, while at the same time, the star would slightly wobble as the planet pulled on the star.

Time really flies on Proxima b

The astrophysicists believe Proxima b is about 1.3 times the mass of the Earth based on the wobble size, but it could be much larger. Additionally, the time it takes for the planet to circle the star is a mere 11.2 days. It is currently impossible to view the planet with telescopes due to the glare from Proxima Centauri.

However, new telescopes are in development that will make it possible to see the planet in about 10 years.

Someday, scientists hope to send robotic probes to take a closer look at the Earth-like planet. One team of astronomers and entrepreneurs are working on a project to send a small fleet of cellphone-size spacecraft to this region of the universe within the next 30 years.

Compared to Earth, Proxima b sits much closer to its parent star. Earth is nearly 93 million miles from the sun, whereas Proxima b is only five million miles away. Mercury, the closest planet to the sun in our solar system, orbits at 36 million miles. However, Proxima b’s sun is very different than our own. Proxima Centauri is much smaller and dimmer, about 12 percent of the mass of our sun.

Just guesswork for now

Whether this Earth-like planet has water on the surface or even an atmosphere is “pure speculation” at this point. It is also highly likely the planet does not rotate as the Earth does, meaning the same side would always face its parent star. Nonetheless, astronomers are excited about the possibility of a planet with the potential to sustain life in a region of space close enough for us to visit someday in the future.

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