Humans are fascinated by the idea of Earth-like planets that could potentially support life. Now astronomers have officially announced that they’ve discovered the closest earth-like planet to date. The alien world named Proxima b is roughly the same size as Earth, it’s potentially habitable, and it orbits the nearest star to our sun just over 4 light years away.
The Earth-like planet or “second Earth” orbits Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri system, and its distance from Proxima Centauri means it may possess liquid water, “an important requirement for the emergence of life.” An article in Der Spiegel states: “Never before have scientists discovered a second Earth that is so close by.”
Related: Stephen Hawking announces plan to explore Alpha Centauri for alien life
It’s not the first time Alpha Centauri has incited speculation. Earlier this year Stephen Hawking said he’s working with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to send tiny satellites to the star system to “listen” for extraterrestrial life. Nor is it the first time a potentially Earth-like planet has been found: NASA’s Kepler Telescope may have already found six Earth-like planets. Back when NASA announced that discovery in 2015, scientist Doug Caldwell said “The day is on the horizon when we’ll know how common temperate, rocky planets like Earth are.”
But the exoplanet near Proxima Centauri is much closer than those other exoplanets. Rather than being 1,400 years away like NASA-discovered Earth-like planet Kepler 452b, Proxima b is a mere 4.24 light years away.
Images via P. Horálek/ESO, PHL, and Wikimedia Commons