The exoplanet Proxima b exists and is slightly larger than Earth


The planet near Proxima exists and is slightly larger than Earth. Confirmation comes from an international team of researchers, including some from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), thanks to the very high precision radial velocity measurements obtained with the Espresso spectrograph (Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations) installed at the Very Large Telescope of the Eso, in the Chilean Andes.


“Proxima b could become habitable over time”

The data collected made it possible to better determine the minimum mass of Proxima b, the exoplanet around the star closest to us after the Sun, which is therefore slightly larger than that of our Earth. The study, led by Alejandro Suarez Mascareno, researcher of the IAC (Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias), – published on Astronomy & Astrophysics – confirms the presence of the planet Proxima b, in orbit around the star Proxima Centauri, distant from us four light years.

Proxima b, the planet around the nearest star

Convincing clues to the presence of this planet were found four years ago by Guillem Anglada-Escudé and his team analyzing measurements taken with the Harps spectrograph, indicating a mass similar to that of Earth and within the habitability zone of its star. Subsequent independent analyzes, but based on the same data, had confirmed the presence of Proxima b. Now the new Espresso measurements, four times more precise than those that had allowed to find the exoplanet, have further confirmed those results and improved the accuracy of the measurement of the minimum mass of Proxima b, equal to 1.2 times that of our planet. This result shows that Espresso is able to discover, with just a few dozen radial velocity measurements, rocky planets with mass equal to or smaller than that of the Earth around small mass stars.

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“The Italian astrophysics community is actively involved in research on extrasolar planets made possible by Espresso’s high precision measurements” Mario Damasso, Inaf researcher in the Espresso scientific team. “We use this avant-garde spectrograph to characterize the atmospheres of exoplanets, to measure the masses of planets of small radius transiting discovered by the satellites Kepler and Tess, but also to search for new rocky worlds in the habitability range of one’s star, such as Proxima b, which represents a perfect prototype to test the potential of Espresso. For this reason we have observed Proxima over an entire season, and the expectations in terms of precision achieved have been fully rewarded, measuring radial speeds with uncertainties of just thirty centimeters per second. ” A value close, to give a term of comparison, to the perturbation that the Earth induces on the radial velocity of the Sun, equal to ten centimeters per second.”In addition to clearly confirming the presence of the Proxima b signal, the radial velocities of Espresso allowed us to reveal the possible presence of another planet with an orbit internal to that of Proxima b and with a minimum mass equal to about 30% of the earthly one “continues Damasso. “Other observations with Espresso will be needed to confirm this signal, the nature of which is currently not yet clear, and for this reason we plan to continue the long-term monitoring of Proxima. New observations with Espresso will also be very useful to confirm the presence of the candidate planet Proxima c, which we discovered with measures taken by the Harps spectrograph and which we recently announced. We expect the exquisite precision of the radial velocities of Espresso to help us in the census of the planetary system closest to us “.

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