24 August 2016
Clear evidence of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System, has been found by an international team of scientists led by astronomers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
Using facilities operated by ESO (the European Southern Observatory) and other telescopes, the research, which is published in the journal Nature, reveals a world with a similar mass to Earth orbiting around Proxima Centauri.
The planet, called Proxima b, orbits its parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth, and is the closest planet outside our Solar System. Planets around other stars are commonly referred to as exoplanets.
Scientists are excited because Proxima b may also be the closest possible home for life outside the Solar System. Speaking to The Times today, QMUL's Professor Richard Nelson said of the announcement "I’ve had a career of nearly 25 years as an astrophysicist and I have to say this so far is the highlight. I don’t want to overegg it, but it does feel like history in the making”.