Astronomers from the University of New South Wales have discovered our solar system’s closest potentially habitable planet – and its only 14 light years from Earth.
In comparison, Kepler-10b, the first rocky alien planet to be confirmed by NASA's Kepler mission, is 560 light years away from us.
The planet, known as Wolf 1061c, has more than four times the mass of Earth. It's one of three planets orbiting the red dwarf star Wolf 1061.
"It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the 'Goldilocks' zone where it might be possible for liquid water – and maybe even life – to exist," says lead study author UNSW's Dr Duncan Wright.
"It is fascinating to look out at the vastness of space and think a star so very close to us -- a near neighbour -- could host a habitable planet.
"While a few other planets have been found that orbit stars closer to us than Wolf 1061, those planets are not considered to be remotely habitable," Dr Wright says.
The team found using observations from the HARPS spectrograph on the European Southern Observatory's 3.6 metre telescope in in Chile.
"Our team has developed a new technique that improves the analysis of the data from this precise, purpose-built, planet-hunting instrument, and we have studied more than a decade's worth of observations of Wolf 1061," says Professor Chris Tinney, head of the Exoplanetary Science at UNSW group.
"These three planets right next door to us join the small but growing ranks of potentially habitable rocky worlds orbiting nearby stars cooler than our Sun."