Using state of the art technology, astronomers have been able to confirm the existence of Proxima b – an Earth-like planet which orbits Proxima Centauri. The star and its planet are just 4.25 lightyears away from Earth, and by using new astronomical instruments, scientists have been able to officially conclude that Proxima b is orbiting the star.
Scientists had been convinced that the planet was there since 2013, but it has taken ESPRESSO, the Swiss-manufactured spectrograph, to confirm its presence.
Alejandro Suarez Mascareño, the article’s main author, said: “Confirming the existence of Proxima b was an important task, and it’s one of the most interesting planets known in the solar neighbourhood.”
Due to its stark similarities to Earth, experts theorise that Proxima b could harbour life.
Proxima b is virtually the same size as Earth, being just 1.17 times the size of our planet and it orbits in Proxima Centauri’s in its solar system’s “goldilocks zone” meaning it is not too far, or too close to its host star – making the conditions for life just right.
The planet takes just 11.2 days to orbit its host star, but the researchers believe it receives roughly the same amount of heat as Earth does from the Sun.
A statement from the researchers said: “Although Proxima b is about 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, it receives comparable energy, so that its surface temperature could mean that water (if there is any) is in liquid form in places and might, therefore, harbour life.”
However, the issue is that Proxima Centauri is an M-type star – the most commonly found star throughout the Universe.
These M-type stars frequently flare up, releasing an explosion of ultraviolet flares.
The researchers are still unsure whether Proxima b has the necessary atmosphere to protect the surface of the planet from deadly radiation.
Christophe Lovis, a researcher in UNIGE’s Astronomy Department and responsible for ESPRESSO’s scientific performance and data processing, said: “Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays?
“And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life (oxygen, for example)? How long have these favourable conditions existed?
“We’re going to tackle all these questions, especially with the help of future instruments like the RISTRETTO spectrometer, which we’re going to build specially to detect the light emitted by Proxima b, and HIRES, which will be installed on the future ELT 39 m giant telescope that the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is building in Chile.”