Located slightly over 4 light-years away from Earth, Proxima Centauri B, our closest neighboring world, bears many characteristics that suggest it might offer ideal conditions to support life. The exoplanet, also referred to as Proxima B, was discovered in 2016 by the European Southern Observatory using the 3.6 meter telescope at the La Silla site in Chile. The team responsible for the discovery published their findings on August 25, 2016 in Nature.
Proxima B rests 0.05 AU (1AU = the distance from Earth to the Sun) away from its host star within the habitable zone allowing for a suitable climate where liquid water could exist. It orbits its star, Proxima Centauri, approximately every 11 Earth-days. A red dwarf, Proxima Centauri is the second closest star to Earth, with only the Sun as its chief competitor. Proxima Centauri belongs to a triple star that includes two stars composing the Alpha Centauri binary. Any colony established in this star system would be treated to an astonishing view, illustrated by the above image: Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.
Researchers suggest that Proxima B’s mass measures close to Earth’s at 1.3 times, with its radius landing somewhere between 0.94 to 1.4 times Earth (3,959 miles / 6,371 kilometers), assuming the planet is very dense and the metal core composes at least 65% of the planet, making it similar to Mercury. Though it resides in the habitable zone, astronomers have yet to determine whether the exoplanet has contains an atmosphere. Its close proximity to its star may leave it vulnerable to massive solar flares, like the one occurring in 2017.
Much of Proxima B’s characteristics remain shrouded in mystery, with most of its measurements unconfirmed estimations. However, its proximity to our solar system gives this exoplanet a unique opportunity for follow up observations, which could lead to exciting revelations to our planet’s closest world. The closest star to our Solar System just so happens to contain a rocky terrestrial planet residing right within the habitable zone. An interesting discovery, to say the least.
Artist Impression of a hypothetical sunset on Proxima B, orbiting red dwarf Proxima Centauri with the Alpha Centauri Binary in the distance. Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser
ESO’s 3.6 meter telescope at La Silla Observatory with a diagram demonstrating the Alpha Centauri system in relation to our Solar System. Credit: ESO/Pale Red Dot www.palereddot.org
Star: Proxima Centauri
Distance From Earth: 22.18 Light-years
Habitable Zone: YES
Planet Radius: 0.94 to 1.4⊕ (Possible Super-Earth)
Orbital Period: 11.186 days
Temperature: 234 K (-39 C -38 F)
Discoverer: European Southern Observatory
Discovery Method: Radial Velocity