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The hunt for exoplanets has been heating up in recent years. Since it began its mission in 2009, over four thousand exoplanet candidates have been discovered by the Kepler mission, several hundred of which have been confirmed to be “Earth-like” (i.e. terrestrial). And of these, some 216 planets have been shown to be both terrestrial and located within their parent star’shabitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks zone”).
But in what may prove to be the most exciting find to date, the German weekly Der Spiegel announced recently that astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, just 4.25 light-years away. Yes, in what is an apparent trifecta, this newly-discovered exoplanet is Earth-like, orbits within it’s sun’s habitable zone, and is within our reach. But is this too good to be true?
For over a century, astronomers have known about Proxima Centauri and believed that it is likely to be part of a trinary star system (along with Alpha Centauri A and B). Located just 0.237 ± 0.011 light years from the binary pair, this low-mass red dwarf star is also 0.12 light years (~7590 AUs) closer to Earth, making it the closest star system to our own.
Scientists are preparing to unveil a new planet in our galactic neighbourhood which is "believed to be Earth-like" and orbits its star at a distance that could favour life, German weekly Der Spiegel reported on August 12, 2016.
The exoplanet orbits a well-investigated star called Proxima Centauri, part of the Alpha Centauri star system, the magazine said, quoting anonymous sources.
"The still nameless planet is believed to be Earth-like and orbits at a distance to Proxima Centauri that could allow it to have liquid water on its surface—an important requirement for the emergence of life," said the magazine.
"Never before have scientists discovered a second Earth that is so close by," it said, adding that the European Southern Observatory (ESO) will announce the finding at the end of August.
The report gave no further details.
Last year, the US space agency unveiled an exoplanet that it described as Earth's "closest-twin".
Named Kepler 452b, the planet is about 60 percent larger than Earth and could have active volcanoes, oceans, sunshine like ours, twice as much gravity and a year that lasts 385 days.
But at a distance of 1,400 light-years away, humankind has little hope of reaching this Earth-twin any time soon.
In comparison, the exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri, if confirmed, is just 4.24 light-years away.
This is a mere stepping stone in relation to the scale of the Universe but still too far away for humans to reach in present-generation chemical rockets.
Read more at: http://tinyurl.com/j3sfzbd
Wikipedia: Proxima Centauri
Clips, images credit: ESO, ESA/HUBBLE & NASA
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