Scientists have discovered a planet in the star system next door that may have certain similarities to Earth.
The planet orbits the star Proxima Centauri, and while it is much closer to the star (5 million miles away) than Earth is to its sun (93 million miles away), Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, much smaller and dimmer than our sun, the New York Times reports. That puts the planet, Proxima b, in the safe zone: neither too hot nor too cold for water, and therefore, potentially life.
What’s more, the star system’s proximity to our solar system means it could be studied by scientists in the not-too-distant future: the planet is 4.2 light-years away from Earth, and while it can’t be seen from current telescopes (scientists discovered it by looking at wobbles in starlight), future generations of the technology may be capable of sighting it. Robotic probes could also be dispatched to research the planet.
Proxima b is estimated to be at least 1.3 times the size of Earth, though possibly much bigger. It orbits its star in just 11.2 days, and its gravitational pull may mean that one side is perpetually in light and the other perpetually in darkness.