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Researchers Find Habitable Planet 'Right Next Door'

Aug 25, 2016 08:03 AM EDT

Living on Mars might be a long way to go following the countless research NASA still has to go through. However, aside from Mars, it appears researchers have found an Earth-like planet right next door. Say hello to Proxima B - the next habitable planet.

Proxima B orbits Proxima Centauri, which is near to the earth's solar system. The planet is slightly bigger than earth but has the same rocky-like surface. Like planet earth, Proxima B is within the "Goldilocks Zone," where it is not too hot nor not too cold. As for its distance, Proxima B is 25 trillion miles away from Earth. The said "habitable" planet has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist, without the threat of it evaporating.

"We hit the jackpot here," said Guillem Anglada-Escude , lead author of a study on the discovery and astrophysicist at the Queen Mary University of London. "It's not only the closest terrestrial planet found, it's probably the closest planet outside our solar system that will ever be found because there is no star closer to the solar system than this one."

For the past 20 years, researchers have found over 3,000 planets outside of the solar system, but only 40 of them appear to be habitable. However, Proxima B, according to Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution for Science, the planet basically has a flashing neon sign stating "this right here."

"It is inspiring to find a potentially habitable world on our cosmic doorsteps, around our next star," said exoplanet expert Lisa Kaltenegger, director of Cornell University's Carl Sagan Institute, adding, "It is significant because if we needed inspiration to try to reach the next star, now we have it."

Yet, a number of questions about Proxima B are left unanswered. One of these is whether the exoplanet has an atmosphere. The atmosphere could be between 96 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If there was no atmosphere, it would basically feel like living on Earth but at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Aside from the presence of an atmosphere, the planet is also subject to factors such as X-ray and ultraviolet flares which could be more intense than what the earth gets from the sun. Research on Proxima B continues as there are still questions left unanswered. The habitability of the planet will be a "matter of intense debate."

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