(CNN) – In a discovery that has been years in the making, researchers have confirmed the existence of a rocky planet named Proxima b orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun, according to a new study. It is the closest exoplanet to us in the universe.
Given the fact that Proxima b is within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water could exist on the surface, it may also be the closest possible home for life outside of our solar system, the researchers said. Because of its location, the researchers hope that it provides an opportunity to “attempt further characterization via ongoing searches by direct imaging and high-resolution spectroscopy in the next decades, and possibly robotic exploration in the coming centuries.”
“The good news is that it is so close,” study author Ansgar Reiners said. “It is not only nice for having it in our neighborhood, but it’s a dream come true for astronomers if we think about follow-up observation.”
Proxima Centauri coexists with a binary star in Alpha Centauri, a well-studied star system that serves as a neighbor to our sun.
Proxima b is a mere 4.2 light-years away from our solar system, or 266,000 times the distance between the Earth and the sun, which are 92.96 million miles apart. Previous rocky exoplanet discoveries, like those orbiting ultracool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, were described as close at 40 light-years away.
“It’s not only the closest terrestrial planet found, it’s probably the closest planet outside our solar system that will ever be found because there is no star closer to the solar system than this one, and any planet around that star is the closest to our solar system,” said lead study author Guillem Anglada-Escudé.
“The only thing you can hope to find between that is Planet Nine, but that would a solar system object or a brown dwarf that hasn’t been discovered,” researcher Pedro Amado added.
Find out more about the discovery here.