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Everything We Know About Proxima b, the New Earth-Like Planet

Space explorers! Shift your attentions away from No Man’s Sky for a moment back to this universe, because astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) believe they have identified an Earth-like planet orbiting our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri. It’s called Proxima b, carries the very Carl Sagan-esque nickname “pale red dot,” and could potentially have liquid water.

We seem to be finding possibilities for that delicious life-allowing liquid on other planets a lot these days, don’t we?

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface 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 to the upper-right of Proxima itself. 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.

Rendering of Proxima Centauri and Proxima b: ESO/M. Kornmesser

The ESO broke the news at a press conference—check it out in the video below—the highlights of which are essentially as follows: Proxima b is likely a rocky planet about 1.3 times the mass of Earth that orbits Proxima Centauri roughly every 11 Earth days, and it may be tidally locked—meaning that it always shows the same side toward its star, and doesn’t rotate on its axis.

What is most notable about Proxima b is the fact that it may lie in the “habitable zone,” which means it may be able to support liquid water and even life. But, as The Guardian points out, the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri is much closer to the star than the one around our Sun. This is because Proxima Centauri is an M Dwarf, or a star that is relatively dim and cool compared to our Sun. And because Proxima Centauri is dimmer and cooler, the habitable zone lies closer to it—exactly where Proxima b finds itself in orbit.

This may be an issue however, because of the star’s UV radiation. Gizmodo explains that the planet may be able to combat this with biofluorescence however, which is the “downshifting” of the star’s UV rays into a more life-friendly segment of the light wavelength spectrum.

Perhaps the most exciting part about the discovery of Proxima b is the fact that it isn’t that far from our solar system (in relative terms). Proxima Centauri is only 4.2 light years—or about 25 trillion miles—away from our solar system, which in cosmic terms is really just a jaunt around the ol’ galactic block. This makes it a perfect target for the Breakthrough Starshot program, which plans to send a fleet of “nanocraft” out to explore our nearest stellar neighbor.

Add to the discovery of Proxima b the fact that Kepler has recently doubled the number of discovered exoplanets—nine of which are in the habitable zone—and it seems like the odds of alien life being discovered at some point are definitely increasing. Which means all you No Man’s Sky players will have a lot of creature naming to do.

What do you think of Proxima b? Do you think it could host life? Will we ever be able to visit it with “nanocraft”? Is anybody allowed to toss an M dwarf star?! Let us know in the comments below!

Featured Image: ESO/L. Calçada/N. Risinger

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