Scientists have come upon an Earth-like planet with temperate atmosphere that promises the existence of water, forming a potentially habitable world that is close enough for humans to send their first interstellar spacecraft, says a new report.
The newly-discovered planet orbits `Proxima Centauri' - the star closest to the Sun - every 11.2 days, says a report in the magazine `Nature.'
Named Proxima b, the Earth-sized planet is orbiting Proxima Centauri at the right distance for liquid water to exist, according to the report.
However, other factors like the same hemisphere always facing the star, which scorches one side of the planet while the other remains cool, might still render it unlivable, report notes.
''The search for life starts now,'' says Guillem Anglada-Escudé, an astronomer at Queen Mary University of London and leader of the team that made the discovery.
The findings are based on data collected over 16 years of working with European Southern Observatory telescopes in the north Chilean desert. The team used Doppler method to detect Proxima b and its properties.
Following the star for 60 consecutive days earlier this year, they found regular shifts in the star's light spectrum - repeating every 11.2 days - giving signs of gravitational pull on its host star, Proxima Centauri.
Researchers also found that the star alternately moved towards and away from our Solar system at about five kilometres per hour.
Proxima's planet is at least 1.3 times the mass of Earth. The planet orbits its red-dwarf star - much smaller and dimmer than the Sun - every 11.2 days. ''If you tried to pick the type of planet you'd most want around the type of star you'd most want, it would be this,'' Nature quoted David Kipping, an astronomer at Columbia University in New York City as saying. ''It's thrilling.''
However, the Proxima planet could see the birth of a new stage in planetary research. ''It gives us the target and focus to build the next generation of telescopes and one day maybe even get to visit,'' adds Kipping. ''It's exactly what we need to take exoplanetary science to the next level.''