Scientists discover Earth-like planet
A group of scientists from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting our nearest neighbour Proxima Centauri. The planet, named Proxima b, is in the Goldilocks Zone or the habitable region of the star where the existence of liquid water - believed to be a key element for the evolution of life - is possible, provided the planet has an atmosphere.
Huge leap in technology needed to reach Proxima b
The fastest spacecraft ever produced by humanity is NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. With its 36,000 mph speed, New Horizons would take 78,000 years to reach Proxima b.
How was the planet discovered?
Proxima b, located 4.22 light years or 25 trillion miles from Earth, was detected indirectly. The scientists confirmed the existence of the planet by using a ground based telescope in Chile to look at Proxima Centauri every night for 60 days. They detected a gravitational effect on the star every 11 days and deduced, by means of calculation, that an orbiting body existed.
The $100 milliion Breakthrough Starshot initiative is an engineering and research program to create light-propelled "nanocrafts" which can travel at 20% the speed of light. These probes, scheduled to be launched by 2060, could reach Proxima b in 20 years and provide photographs.
What is the planet like?
Proxima b is located 4.6 million miles from Proxima Centauri, roughly one-twentieth the distance between the Sun and the Earth. As a result, scientists believe that Proxima b's sky is perpetually orange. As the planet does not rotate, one side is always facing Proxima Centauri. The planet circles Proxima Centauri extremely fast, resulting in an 11 day year.
The lifespan of Proxima Centauri
Proxima Centauri has a lifespan of several trillion years as opposed to the 5 billion years of life the Sun has left. As a result, Proxima b, the closest Earth-like planet, would be a natural choice for humanity to migrate to.