Scientists think a new ‘super-Earth’ planet – six times larger than our own -is possibly orbiting the nearest star to our sun – but it would be too cold for life to exist
- Astronomers say they may have detected a second planet around Proxima Centauri, our solar system’s nearest neighboring star
- The planet’s existence remains unconfirmed, for now
- Dubbed Proxima c, it would be a so-called super-Earth
- Its 1900-day orbit would also likely make it a frigid, inhospitable place
- Planet lies some 1.5x the distance from Proxima Centauri as Earth is from the sun
Scientists believe they may have discovered a new planet orbiting the star which is closest to our sun.
Possibly two planets could be orbiting a small red dwarf called Proxima Centauri which is around 4.24 light-years away.
‘We are pleased to show you, for the first time, what is for us a new candidate planet around Proxima that we call Proxima c,’ Mario Damasso of Italy’s Observatory of Turin announced on Friday during the 2019 Breakthrough Discuss conference.
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 our solar system. However, it is now thought that a second planet, Proxima c is also in orbit around Proxima Centauri
Scientists already knew about the first planet, Proxima Centauri b (blue orbit) but believe a second planet orbits around the star and has been called Proxima Centauri c (red orbit)
‘It is only a candidate,’ Damasso says. ‘This is very important to underline.’
If there is a planet orbiting the star, it would be at least six times larger than Earth – giving it the title of a super-Earth.
Its orbit would take around 1,900 days to complete a loop around the star which would also mean the planet’s average surface temperature would be much too cold for liquid water to flow.
Three years ago scientists were able to reveal the first known planet orbiting Proxima Centauri.
A diagram of the star systems closest to the sun. Two exoplanets might be orbiting the nearest star the red dwarf Proxima Centauri that’s about 4.24 light-years away. It would not be in the habitable zone where water is liquid
Orbital plot of Proxima Centauri showing its position with respect to Alpha Centauri over the coming millenia (graduations are in thousands of years). The large number of background stars is due to the fact that Proxima Cen is located very close to the plane of the Milky Way
They described how the planet, named Proxima Centauri b, appeared to be 1.3 times the size of Earth and possibly warm enough for life to exist.
Scientists only appeared to notice this new, second planet after taking another look at the data collected from the first discovery.
The information that was used to spot Proxima b was processed slightly differently. Further new measurements were also added over the course of a year-and-a-half.
It gave the team approximately 17 years’ worth of data on the Proxima Centauri star and noticed that there could well be a second planet in the region.
This artist’s impression shows the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The existence of a second planet remains unconfirmed, for now
‘This detection is very challenging,’ Fabio Del Sordo of the University of Crete said to National Geographic. ‘We asked ourselves many times if this is a real planet. But what is sure is that even if this planet is a castle in the air, we should keep working to put even stronger foundations under it.’
Scientists plan to continue collecting data on the star and will further study the star and its intergalactic surroundings.
They believe that as future telescopes develop and become even more powerful, it might soon be possible to see the planet fully.
‘This is really an amazing, amazing result — I hope it withstands scientific scrutiny over the next few months and years,’ said Rene Heller of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research during the Breakthrough Discuss conference.