Potentially habitable planet at the star next door

Proxima Centauri b
An artist’s conception shows Proxima Centauri b orbiting its parent star, a red dwarf, with the two other stars of the Alpha Centauri system in the far background. (Credit: M. Kornmesser / ESO)

The rumors you’ve heard are mostly true: Scientists say the star that’s closest to our solar system has a planet that could be at the right temperature for liquid water and life.

The star is called Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf that’s part of the Alpha Centauri system, 4.2 light-years away. The planet is called Proxima Centauri b, and it’s a terrestrial world whose existence has now been confirmed after 16 years of study.

It’s not yet known whether Proxima b has an atmosphere, or liquid water. But the computer models don’t rule out the possibility. That would make it the closest known exoplanet – and the closest known exoplanet with the potential for life.

As such, it could be the nearest haven for humanity in case things go horribly wrong in our own solar system. And it just so happens that scientists are working on a robotic mission to the Alpha Centauri system: The Breakthrough Starshot initiative received a $100 million kick-start from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner in April.

“We expect either to characterize it, if we get lucky, or maybe visit it in a couple of centuries,” Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University of London, told reporters.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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