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Earth-Like Planet Found Circling Sun’s Neighbor

Earth-Like Planet Found Circling Sun’s NeighborEarth-Like Planet Found Circling Sun’s Neighbor

Scientists have discovered a planet that appears to be similar to Earth circling the star closest to the sun, potentially a major step in the quest to find out if life exists elsewhere in the universe, research published on Wednesday showed.

The relative proximity of the planet, known as Proxima b, gives scientists a better chance to eventually capture an image of it, to help them establish whether it has an atmosphere and water, which is necessary for life, Reuters reported.

Future studies may reveal if any atmosphere contains tell-tale chemicals of biological life, such as methane, according to a paper published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature.

The planet, located about 4.2 light-years from Earth, or 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km), is the closest of some 3,500 planets that have been discovered beyond the solar system since 1995, according to the paper.

“This planetary system is much closer than any other that we know so detailed investigation is easier,” astronomer Ansgar Reiners, with the University of Gottingen in Germany, told reporters on a conference call.

Astronomers got their first hint of a planet circling the sun’s small dim neighbor star in 2013. But they needed additional observations, using more precise instruments, to make a definitive call.

An international team of 31 scientists found the planet after careful and repeated measurements of slight shifts in the color of the light coming from its host star, Proxima Centauri, which is a small, dim star in the Alpha Centauri system.

“Chances are good that it’s a viable, Earth-like planet today,” said astronomer Pedro Amado, with the Instituto de Astrofsica de Andaluca in Granada, Spain.

Before the discovery of Proxima b, the nearest Earth-like planet to the sun was circling a star known as Wolf 1061, located about 14 light-years away.

The discovery announced on Wednesday is expected to bolster a $100 million project unveiled in April and backed by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to develop a miniature laser-powered spacecraft that can make the trip to the Alpha Centauri system in about 20 years.

Financialtribune.com