The star system Alpha Centauri has inspired many fictional worlds including the ones in Avatar and Transformers, and now the nearest star to our Sun might just have a real-life Earth-like planet waiting to be explored.
This week, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory discovered a planet dubbed Proxima b, saying it’s the closest planet to Earth that could possibly support life. Proxima b, which orbits the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri in Alpha Centauri, is just 4.3 light years or 25 trillion miles away. York University Professor of Astronomy and Physics Paul Delaney says the news is exciting since the rocky planet has the potential to be Earth 2.0.
“Astronomically speaking, truly, that is the house next door — that is the star next door,” he said to CTV News. “It’s in the Habitable Zone, the region around the star in which water could exist on the surface…all of the trademarks of Earth 2.0.”
This is why astronomers think there’s a possibility for the existence of “very simple, single-celled life” (kind of like slime). Last year, NASA discovered a planet (Kepler-452b) and star which closely resembled our Earth and Sun, however, they’re 1,400 light years away. Since the Alpha Centauri star system is relatively close to us, Delaney thinks the opportunities are endless when it comes to exploring the planet.
“We are able to train our telescope and tease apart details that we would not be able to see around more distant stars. And, of course, eventually…we’ll be able to send spacecrafts across interstellar distances,” he said. “They’re talking really seriously about that now, in the next 15 to 20 years about potentially sending small spacecrafts in that direction. Now, you’ve got a target.”
So, it’s going to take a while to really find out whether there’s water and life on our new friend Proxima b. In the meantime, we’ll just watch Avatar to keep our imagination (and hope) alive.
Wanna know more about Proxima b? Watch the video below for even more cool details: