ESPRESSO, a new spectroscope on the Very Large Telescope (VLT), has, for instance, determined that the nearest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, has a 1.17 Earth-mass planet in its habitable zone. Suddenly, out of the blue, we have a spectroscopic confirmation that our world is not alone.*
*life confirmation not included
Proxima Centauri is very different from our Sun. It is an active red dwarf, and this planet orbits the star every 11.2 Earth days and is likely tidally locked so that it always shows the same side of the planet to its star, just like how our moon always shows the same side to our planet Earth.
This system also appears to have potentially a second planet, which may only be one third the mass of the Earth!
Once we have tens-of-meter telescopes in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be able to explore if this world has an atmosphere, and it becomes easier to imagine someday making this world, at just 4.2 light-years distance, our first target of interstellar travel. This work is published in Astronomy & Astrophysics by lead author A. Suárez Mascareño.