Our dreams of finding life outside of our own solar system could be coming true faster than we imagined. According to a new study published in Nature on Wednesday, a potentially life-supporting planet called Proxima b has been discovered in Proxima Centauri’s orbit. At just four light-years from Earth, the red dwarf is our sun’s closest neighbor, making the discovery of its exoplanet a truly breakthrough discovery.
The study’s coauthor, John Barnes, stressed the magnitude of this find, saying in a statement, “If further research concludes that the conditions of its atmosphere are suitable to support life, this is arguably one of the most important scientific discoveries we will ever make.”
Using two telescopes anchored at the European Southern Observatory along with years of research on Proxima Centauri, scientists were able to confirm the existence of a rocky planet that sits in the middle of its star’s habitable zone. Life on Proxima b would be different from our own planet in many ways, one key difference being its 11-day orbit around its star. This close proximity enabled scientists to detect Proxima b’s existence because its gravitational pull tugs on Proxima Centauri, causing the star to wobble in a measurable, rhythmic pattern.
Among other differences, Proxima b is also slightly larger than our home planet at 1.3 times the size of Earth. Assuming this exoplanet has an atmosphere, researchers estimate its average surface temperature to be somewhere between 86 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the absence of an atmosphere could mean much colder temperatures ranging between negative 22 and 40 degrees, CNN reports.
And unlike the Earth, which rotates as it orbits, giving us days and nights, Proxima b spins more like our moon, meaning one side is constantly bathed in light while the other is shrouded in darkness. One can only imagine what life on the dark side might be like.
Watch the video above to get a better picture of your future exoplanet vacation destination.