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There may be a hidden planet orbiting a nearby star

Published Jan 27th, 2020 8:08PM EST
super earth

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Besides the Sun, the nearest star to Earth is a big flaming orb known as Proxima Centauri. As far as we know, there’s at least one planet orbiting the star, which astronomers have named Proxima Centauri b, but a new study suggests that the known exoplanet around the star might not be flying solo.

According to the study, which was published in Science Advances, a planet now known as Proxima Centauri c may also be hanging out around the star. Even more exciting, scientists think that the planet orbits its star at a distance of around one astronomical unit, which is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, suggesting that it may be temperate.

It’s important to note that, at the moment, astronomers can’t say for certain whether or not the planet exists. Based on their observations the researchers believe the planet to be quite large, but rocky, like Earth. This would-be “Super Earth” would be around six times the mass of our own planet, making it several times larger than Proxima Centauri b.

The scientists made their discovery by observing how Proxima Centauri moves. When a star has objects in its orbit, those objects cause the planet to wobble ever so slightly. Astronomers can detect this wobble, and perform calculations to determine what kind of a planet might be responsible for it.

The idea of a “Super Earth” orbiting the closest star to our Sun is obviously quite exciting. However, it’s still far too early to know if the planet hosts life, or if it’s even habitable. Going forward, additional research campaigns will be needed to confirm that the second planet exists and, if it does, what it might be like on the surface.