ESO Found Evidence of Habitable Planet Orbiting Nearest Star
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) found clear evidence that there is a habitable planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri near Earth. The planet is larger than Earth and also has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist.
Proxima Centauri is a dwarf red star, also known as the pale red dot. It has been the center of ESO's habitable planet hunt to find another potentially habitable planet outside the Solar System.
Proxima Centauri can be found near Earth at about four light-years away from the Solar System. It is located in the constellation of Centaurus. Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities worldwide confirmed that they have found clear evidence that there is a planet orbiting the nearest star system to Earth. The new planet is called Proxima b and it is considered a potentially habitable planet since it is believed to have a suitable temperature to hold liquid water.
Based on the research, astronomers say that the rocky Proxima b completes an 11-day orbit around its star. But the most significant part of the study is that the scientists believe that Proxima b could be the next potential "abode" to cater to life outside the Solar System.
Earlier this month, rumors circulated suggesting that a habitable planet was already found, citing an unknown source. But ESO did not confirm nor deny the rumors until the finding was about to be published in the journal Nature on Aug. 25.
To achieve this milestone, ESO used the HARPS spectrograph on the ESO telescope at La Silla in Chile to observe Proxima Centauri. Their observations were supported by various telescopes from different parts of the world. Aside from that, Guillem Anglada-Escudé of the Queen Mary University of London led the Pale Red Dot campaign to search for evidence of orbiting planets in the region.
The Pale Red Dot campaign was established to see if there are other Earth-like planets orbiting around the nearest star system. The team of astronomers was apprehensive to conclude at first, but the evidence is clear. "I kept checking the consistency of the signal every single day during the 60 nights of the Pale Red Dot campaign," Guillem Anglada-Escudé said in a press release by ESO. "The first 10 were promising, the first 20 were consistent with expectations, and at 30 days the result was pretty much definitive, so we started drafting the paper," Anglada-Escudé added.
Based on their findings, the habitable planet is 1.3 times bigger compared to the mass of Earth and it orbits at about 7 million kilometers from its star with only five percent of the Earth-Sun distance. Proxima Centauri is fainter than the Sun putting Proxima b into a habitable zone despite its close orbit to the star.
In 2013, the first hints on finding a habitable planet were discovered. From then on Anglada-Escudé and ESO worked hard to find more definitive evidence to conclude that a potentially habitable planet orbits the nearest star outside the Solar System.
Continued studies are being conducted with regard to Proxima b's climate, water content, and radiation level. In the meantime, the conditions within Proxima b also made it the foremost candidate in the search for life outside the Earth.