Earth-like planet discovered

BELLINGHAM ­– About four light years away from our planet sits Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system, and orbiting it is its just-discovered companion, a small Earth-like planet that, for now at least, holds the unassuming name of Proxima b.

At this distance, Proxima b is, in interstellar terms, a next-door neighbor even though a probe such as Voyager, if launched today, would take about 75,000 years to reach it.

“We’ve discovered other planets before, but not this close to us,” said James Davenport, a postdoctoral researcher in Western Washington University’s Physics and Astronomy Department. “What is doubly exciting is that Proxima b sits right in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of its parent star – not too close for the heat to boil off the planet’s atmosphere, not too far for it to be a ball of ice. It’s at just the right distance for a pleasant atmosphere and because of that, potentially, life.”