Proxima Centauri may have a second planet orbiting its dim orbits, revealed astronomers at the recently concluded Breakthrough Discuss conference. The candidate planet, which has been dubbed Proxima c, is not a confirmed sighting yet, and the observations filed as a paper to a peer-reviewed publication has not been accepted yet. Nevertheless, the observers are fairly excited about having observed a new exoplanet that lies reasonably close to us, and hopes are high about further observations on Proxima c, leading to the eventual confirmation about its existence.
The observation was made via the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), which gazes deep into the night sky to observe gravitational anomalies inflicted by orbiting planets, passing comets and other celestial objects. HARPS will continue to make observations of Proxima c, aided by assistance from the Gaia star-gazing spacecraft, operated by the European Space Agency. Observation of Proxima c will further help us gauge properties intrinsic to this planet, and how its constituents shape up.
It is important to note that despite the understandable excitement around the discovery of a nearby exoplanet, Proxima c is hardly a candidate for potential life. Proxima b, which falls under the potential habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, is already believed to be a barren world, with any semblance of a possible atmosphere being blown away, probably by flares from its dwarf star. The lack of a biosphere further means that it has polar differences in temperature as it rotates around its axis. This means scorching daytimes, and frigid night times, both of which are not suitable for the existence of life, even though the planet falls in the potential zone where theoretically, water might exist in the liquid form.
Proxima c, meanwhile, is situated about 1.5AU away from its preceding planet, which is roughly 140 million miles from the potentially habitable zone. As a result, temperatures on Proxima c will likely be uniformly frigid. Nevertheless, the latest planetary discovery further denotes a technological feat for humankind, adding a new leaf to potential interplanetary missions and observations. All of it should help us gather more data on how fellow solar systems function, and in turn, understand the possibility of alien life forms in worlds far, far away.