By Alison Fox
January 16, 2020

A potential “super-Earth” has been discovered orbiting the closest star to our sun, according to a new study published this week.

The possible super-Earth, Proxima c, was found orbiting the Proxima Centauri star, only 4.2 light-years from our planet and the closest star to our sun, CNN reported.

It's the second discovery of a planet orbiting that star — the network reported that astronomers in 2016 found the planet Proxima b, which they said was potentially habitable.

Artist rendering of Promixa Centauri. Proxima is the nearest star to the Sun. It is a dim red dwarf, smaller than our Sun and many thousands of times fainter. Here we see it seen with an orbiting rocky planet, recently discovered.
MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRA/Getty Images

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, looked at more than 17 years of radial velocity data from the star system after they detected a signal there, according to CNN. The Proxima Centauri star also has a binary star in Alpha Centauri in the Centaurus constellation, and can’t be seen with the naked eye.

If the new planet is indeed a "super-Earth," it would mean it was an exoplanet with a mass that was higher than our own Earth but lower than planets like Uranus and Neptune, Newsweek reported.

"For such type of star we expect systems of low-mass planets to be common around them," Mario Damasso, from the INAF Astrophysical Observatory of Turin, told Newsweek. "After the discovery of the planet Proxima b, our colleagues followed-up Proxima collecting more data for one more year, with the aim of detecting additional planets."

Astronomers first decided to look for this new planet after they saw light from an unknown source during a previous study, according to Newsweek. They believe that the new potential planet orbits its star about every 5.2 years.

Damasso cautioned, however, that the magnetic activity around Proxima Centauri can “introduce signals that can mimic those of planets. This is one good reason why we are careful in our claim." He said follow-up research is necessary.

According to the magazine, Proxima b has been considered one of the most promising areas for scientists who are looking for signs of life outside the Solar System due to its relative closeness to Earth and because it is in the "habitable zone" of its star.

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