It’s all good, everyone – scientists have found another earth we can move to in case we destroy this one!
Admittedly, at 4.25 light years away we’re going to need a Millennium Falcon to get to it. But the discovery made by a group of 31 scientists at the Queen Mary University of London is a significant one.
Orbiting the Proxima Centauri red dwarf star, the planet – called “Proxima b” – has characteristics that could be potentially earth-like. It is now the closest confirmed exoplanet (that is, a planet that orbits a star) outside our solar system.
“Scientists are excited because Proxima b may … be the closest possible home for life outside the Solar System,” the university said in a news release, with lead project author Dr. Guillem Anglada-Escude saying the next step is to search for life on Proxima b.
“If further research concludes that the conditions of its atmosphere are suitable to support life, this is arguably one of the most important scientific discoveries we will ever make,” added Dr. John Barnes of the U.K.’s Open University.
The Washington Post notes that at 4 million miles away, the planet is closer to its sun than we are to ours. But because its star is a dim, cool red dwarf, the surface temperature on the rocky planet is likely to be around minus 40 Fahrenheit – otherwise known as winter in northern Minnesota.
The reason the planet hasn’t been found until now, the newspaper says, is that astronomers have historically fixated on stars similar to our own brightly burning sun (such as Alpha Centauri), but it’s become apparent that stars like Proxima Centauri could be “just as capable of hosting life as more familiar looking suns.”
Space.com reports the planet lies within the “habitable zone” around Proxima Centauri, which refers to the range of distances at which liquid water could be found on the surface.