Earthlike exoplanet discovered orbiting the nearest star

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Worlds without end: An Earthlike exoplanet has been discovered in the habitable zone and orbiting Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun.

The CBC/AP story above doesn’t give many details, mainly because this story is breaking the Thursday embargo, when the actual science paper will be released. Expect a lot more news stories then about this, which probably ranks as one of the biggest science discoveries in history.

Since the embargo is broken, here are some facts from one of the press releases:

The planet, called Proxima b, orbits its parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth, and is the closest planet outside our solar system. Planets around other stars are commonly referred to as exoplanets.

…Although Proxima b orbits much closer to its star than Mercury does to the Sun in the solar system, the star itself is far fainter than the sun. As a result Proxima b lies well within the habitable zone around the star and has an estimated surface temperature that would allow the presence of liquid water. Despite the temperate orbit of Proxima b, the conditions on the surface may be strongly affected by the ultraviolet and X-ray flares from the star — these would be far more intense than those the Earth experiences from the Sun.

They first had a hint of the planet’s existence in 2013 (which explains the unsourced rumors I’ve heard periodcally in the past few years about a exoplanet around Proxima Centauri) and spent the past two-plus years making absolutely sure they understood their data.


  • Alex

    That would be great, I hope it is no false alarm as some years ago.

  • Localfluff

    I’m not surprised that this comes a month before the Gaia space telescope finally releases its first data, after more than two years of secrecy. It seems to be a trend that astronomers rush to publish something before a great telescope or probe is about to release its data to confirm it. I can understand it for Pluto, whose moons were discovered by telescopes, because it could help the New Horizons mission as it flew by. But why not wait a month with publishing this, to see if Gaia confirms it? Well, because of personal prestige, I suppose, I suspect.

    Certainly Gaia’s extreme precision astrometry will detect an exoplanet that close to our nearest star.

    Hard radiation which kills us, could be a great energy source for other lifeforms. We have examples of it on Earth, although the evil ozon layer blocks their energy source, so that they thrive most at places like Chernobyl where we humans feed them with the rare radiactivity they depend on.

  • Alex

    Localfluff: I such case is not the telescope as such very important but the attached spectrometer.

  • Edward

    Localfluff wrote: “But why not wait a month with publishing this, to see if Gaia confirms it? Well, because of personal prestige, I suppose, I suspect.”

    It may be less for personal prestige and more to justify the grant money. The group or person funding research such as this has done so with the expectation that the money went to discover something new (unless the grant was specifically to confirm a discovery). Thus, scientists who have a new finding are eager to tell the world about it before they get scooped.

    Would you continue to fund scientists who didn’t publish their findings before someone else did? I suspect that you would be more likely to fund the someone else, because he was getting results for his funding.

    The opposite problem is publishing too soon but being wrong. Pons and Fleischmann are examples of this. So far, no one has been able to duplicate their results, but the world keeps expecting cold fusion cars any day now.

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