Astronomers discover Proxima d, an alien planet "within reach"

Feb 10 2022, 7:10 pm

Astronomers have discovered an alien planet that’s orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our very own solar system.

Alien in this case means foreign, and not a planet that’s inhabited by extraterrestrials, unfortunately.

Named Proxima d, the planet is the third one detected in the Proxima Centauri system, and is a quarter of the Earth’s mass. It was detected using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT).

“The discovery shows that our closest stellar neighbour seems to be packed with interesting new worlds, within reach of further study and future exploration,” said Jo√£o Faria, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrof√≠sica e Ci√™ncias do Espa√ßo, Portugal, in a statement.

Astronomers are also suggesting that Proxima d is one of the lightest exoplanets ever found. Exoplanet simply refers to a planet that orbits a star that isn’t the Sun.

Proxima d’s orbit is at a distance of about four million kilometres from the star Proxima Centauri. Astronomers suggest that this distance is less than a tenth of mercury’s distance from the sun.

Proxima d isn’t the first planet discovered in the Proxima Centauri system. Proxima b was discovered a few years ago and it has a mass comparable to the Earth’s. Proxima c was also previously discovered in the same system.

The instrument used to make this discovery is called the Echelle SPectograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations. ESPRESSO for short.

“This achievement is extremely important,” said Chile ESPRESSO instrument scientist at ESO Pedro Figueira in a statement.

“It shows that the radial velocity technique has the potential to unveil a population of light planets, like our own, that are expected to be the most abundant in our galaxy and that can potentially host life as we know it.”

“This result clearly shows what ESPRESSO is capable of and makes me wonder about what it will be able to find in the future,” added Faria.

Scientists say that the effect of Proxima d’s gravity is so minimal that it only causes Proxima Centauri to move back and forth at around 40 centimetres per second.

Proxima d isn’t in the habitable zone. In other words, it isn’t likely to be able to sustain human life in case you were hoping to take a trip to space anytime soon.

Amir AliAmir Ali

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