The search for life in space just took a big leap forward. Researchers working on the new Earths in the Alpha Centauri region (NEAR) project, funded by business man Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Initiatives, have potentially found a new planet in the habitable zone the the nearby star Alpha Centauri A, located 4.37 light-years indigenous Earth. Their report was published in the Nature Communications newspaper this week.

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In photo taken of the star via the European southerly Observatory's (ESO) Very huge Telescope (VLT) in Chile, the team spotted a different glowing object. They suspect it can be a planet — one that's 4 to 5 times larger than Earth, or about the size of Neptune. It's located between one to two astronomical units (AU) from its star (one AU is the street from the earth to the sun), putting the world in the habitable zone, where water can be able to type to support life.

Particularly attractive to researchers is that Alpha Centauri A is a binary star with Alpha Centauri B — numerous theorized that planets wouldn't it is in able to type in together a binary system. However, the earth is only a world candidate because that now, as the study team needs much more data come verify its existence. 

"We to be amazed to find a signal in our data," the study's coauthor Kevin Wagner claimed in a statement. "While the detection meets every criteria because that what a world would look like, different explanations — such as dust orbiting in ~ the habitable region or just an important artifact the unknown origin — have to be rule out."

If the does turn out to be a planet, the wouldn't be too surprising. In 2016, scientists discovered a perhaps habitable world orbiting the 3rd star in the Alpha Centauri system, Proxima Centauri. (This star additionally made headlines last year when astronomers found an unexplained radio signal coming from the vicinity.)



Interestingly, the many exciting part of this discovery is no necessarily the planet candidate chin — it's how scientists have spotted it. Previously, astronomers can only identify the existence of exoplanets by watching the habits of stars. If lock dim throughout observations, planets are most likely passing in front of them; if they wobble, it's likely as result of a nearby planet's gravitational pull.

The near team's brand-new observation, however, point out the an initial time that researchers were may be to directly image (that is, basically photograph) the habitable zone that a nearby star, opened up a whole brand-new world of possibilities once it pertains to searching for exoplanets.

"Whether this point is real is, to me, almost secondary," research coauthor Olivier Guyon said Scientific American.

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"Because either way it shows we're clearly opening a new era in the background of astronomy where, finally, after an ext than 20 years of tough work, we deserve to at last perform direct imaging of another star's habitable zone. This is the 'game on' minute for the field."

So, also if this planet candidate turns out to it is in a speck that dust or a mechanical glitch, there's tho plenty to be excited around — at least if you're one astronomer.