IOP hails discovery of Earth-like exoplanet in habitable zone of Proxima Centauri

24 August 2016

The IOP has congratulated the team, led by astronomers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), whose finding of an Earth-like exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri was announced today.

IOP hails discovery of Earth-like exoplanet in habitable zone of Proxima Centauri
ESO/M. Zamani

Commenting on the announcement, the IOP’s president Professor Roy Sambles, said: “So perhaps we are not alone in the universe. Researchers at QMUL who have discovered an Earth-like planet in a habitable zone may have changed our perception of ourselves for ever. It is rewarding to see UK scientists still leading the world. Well done all concerned.”

The finding was made by an international team of scientists whose lead author and project co-ordinator was Dr Guillem Anglada-Escudé (pictured) from QMUL’s School of Physics and Astronomy. He said: “Succeeding in the search for the nearest terrestrial planet beyond the solar system has been an experience of a lifetime, and has drawn on the dedication and passion of a number of international researchers.”

IOP hails discovery of Earth-like exoplanet in habitable zone of Proxima Centauri
Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M. Zamani

The discovery builds on work over a number of years by researchers from institutions around the world, including the University of Hertfordshire and the Open University as well as QMUL. The researchers have used facilities operated by the European Southern Observatory, which held a press conference today to announce the discovery, and the project has employed other telescopes. The research will be published in Nature on 25 August.

The exoplanet, named Proxima b, orbits its star every 11 days and is a little more massive than Earth. Although its orbit is much closer to its star than Mercury’s is to the Sun, the star is a red dwarf and is fainter and cooler than the Sun, so liquid water could exist on its surface. Proxima Centauri, at about 4.3 light years away, is Earth’s nearest neighbouring star.