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The Closest Exoplanet to Earth May Have Neighbors

The nearest alien planet to Earth may not be an only child. Astronomers have spotted a dusty ring around the nearby star Proxima Centauri, hinting at the existence of other planets in addition to the famous Proxima b, a new study reports. "This result suggests that Proxima Centauri may have a multiple-planet system with a rich history of interactions that resulted in the formation of a dust belt," study lead author Guillem Anglada, an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia in Spain, said in a statement. "Further study may also provide information that might point to the locations of as-yet unidentified additional planets." Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf that lies about 4.2 light-years from Earth, in the southern constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur). In 2016, researchers spotted Proxima b, an apparently Earth-size world orbiting the star in what seems to be the habitable zone, the region where liquid water could exist on the surface. The star itself is about the same age as the sun. (Coincidentally, the team that discovered Proxima b was led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London, a part of Anglada's team but no relation to the author of the new research.) Anglada and his colleagues studied Proxima Centauri using the Atacama Large millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a network of telescopes in Chile. The researchers discovered a belt of dusty material containing about 1 percent the mass of Earth. The belt — which lies a few hundred million kilometers from the star, far beyond Proxima b's orbit — has a temperature of about minus 328 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 230 degrees Celsius), roughly the same temperature of the solar system's Kuiper Belt, researchers said. Read More: Seeker

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