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Signs of planet detected around sun’s nearest neighbor star

Proxima Centauri companion orbits in habitable zone

1:00pm, August 24, 2016
illustration of the surface of Proxima b

A WORLD NEXT DOOR  Proxima Centauri casts a reddish glow over the surface of Proxima b (illustrated), the closest exoplanet to Earth, while two companion stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, appear as bright pinpricks of light.

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Earth might have a kindred planet orbiting the star next door. A world at least 1.3 times as massive as Earth appears to orbit the closest star to the sun: Proxima Centauri, a dim red orb about 4.2 light-years away.

Dubbed Proxima b, the planet is cozied up to its star, needing just 11.2 days to complete one orbit. But despite the proximity to its star — just 5 percent of the distance from Earth to the sun — Proxima b is potentially habitable. Its temperature is just right for liquid water to flow on its surface, Guillem Anglada-Escudé, an astronomer at Queen Mary University of London, and colleagues report in the August 25 Nature. That makes Proxima b the closest known world outside our solar system where life might exist.

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