In August of 2016, a team of astronomers discovered Proxima Centauri b, an exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. This finding was greatly exciting for several reasons. Not only is Proxima Centauri the closest star to our solar system besides the Sun at 4.2 light-years away, but its planet is in orbit within the star’s habitable zone, or the distance at which the planet could potentially support liquid water on its surface. The planet is only slightly more massive than Earth, indicating that it is likely a rocky planet like our own. However, Proxima Centauri b may have several hazards preventing it from being habitable by life as we know it. Below is an infographic about some of Proxima b’s characteristics:
Because the planet is in orbit around a small red dwarf, it is quite close to its star, orbiting in only about 11.2 days. Because of this, it may be tidally locked, meaning that one side would always face the star, creating harsh conditions everywhere except perhaps the border between the light and dark sides. It’s proximity to its star also leaves it prone to devastating solar flares and other radiation, making it unlikely that the star has a thick atmosphere or the potential for life. Nevertheless, knowing that planets quite similar to our own are this close should inspire us to continue searching for new and exciting worlds.