Astronomers have found evidence for a new planet circling Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun. The alien world is only a quarter of the mass of Earth and Orbiting extremely close to its parent star, at one-tenth of the distance between the sun and Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet.
Researchers spotted the new planet after studying tiny wobbles in the motion of Proxima Centauri caused by the gravitational pull it exerts as it swings around the star. Observations were taken with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile suggest the planet completes a full Orbiting of the star every five days.
João Faria, a researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences in Portugal and lead author on the study, said that the discovery shows that our closest stellar neighbor is “packed with interesting new worlds” within reach of further study and future exploration. Scientists believe the planet Orbiting about 2.4m miles (4m km) from Proxima Centauri, meaning it is closer to the star than its habitable zone, where the temperature range is just right for water to run freely. Details are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Named Proxima d, the planet is the third – and the lightest – to be spotted around Proxima Centauri, which at four light-years away is the closest star to the solar system at four light-years. It joins Proxima b, a planet with a mass comparable to Earth, which completes an Orbiting every 11 days, and Proxima c, which is believed to take about five years to circle the star.The first hints of the planet came in 2020 when astronomers were observing Proxima Centauri to confirm Proxima b. The measurements revealed a weak signal in the star’s motion that had the hallmarks of being caused by a planet Orbiting every five days.