The discovery of Proxima b, the closest-possible Earth-like planet outside of our own solar system, has the scientific community hot and bothered.
Perhaps no one should be more thrilled than Stephen Hawking. The famed astrophysicist has been one of the leading figures in the search for extraterrestrial life, launching a project named Breakthrough Starshot with hundreds of millions in funding.
The $100 million initiative, funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, announced in April that it planned to send a nanocraft probe that weighs just a few grams to Alpha Centauri, which just happens to be the star system that houses Proxima b. While it hadn't announced exactly where the probe was going, we're willing to bet Proxima b will be toward the top of the list after Wednesday's announcement.
See photos of the newly-found exoplanet
Exoplanet Proxima b
Exoplanet Proxima b
A view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System, is seen in an undated artist's impression released by the European Southern Observatory August 24, 2016. ESO/M. Kornmesser/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
The planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System, is seen in an undated artist's impression released by the European Southern Observatory August 24, 2016. ESO/M. Kornmesser/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A view of the southern skies over the European Southern Observatory (ESO) 3.6-metre (11.8 foot) telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri (lower-right) and the double star Alpha Centauri AB (lower-left) from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope as seen in an undated image released by the European Southern Observatory August 24, 2016. Y. Beletsky/LCO/ESO/ESA/NASA/M. Zamani/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
GERMANY - JUNE 22: Illustration taken from 'Uranometria' (1603) by Johann Bayer, showing consellations of Centaurus. Alpha Centauri is the star positioned on the front hoof of the centaur. German astronomer and lawyer Johann Bayer (1572-1625) invented the system for naming stars using letters from the Greek alphabet, a system still used today for the brighter stars - those visible to the human eye without the aid of a telescope. 'Uranometria' depicts the positions of nearly 1000 stars in addition to those identified by Tycho Brahe. Alpha Centauri is a double star and the second closest star to our own Sun, 4.35 light years away (only Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star in the same system is closer). It is a very similar star to the Sun, leading to speculation that it could have planets harbouring life. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
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The tiny spacecraft will be far too small to transport humans to the new planet, but it is humanity's best shot at getting a close up look at the exoplanet during a human lifetime. Conventional spacecraft would take anywhere from 20,000 to 160,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri some four lightyears away. But Breakthrough Starshot aims to make the journey in 20 years by using lasers to propel the nanocraft at 20 percent of the speed of light.
The team behind the nanocraft technology published another key breakthrough the same day Proxima b dominated headlines. Researchers at Harvard University working on the project noted in their paper that they think they've discovered a way to avoid the potentially catastrophic damage the nanocraft could suffer if it encounters gas and dust on its trek.
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After the probe reaches its destination, it will scan for habitable conditions and even signs of life, but that may not be likely. According to reports, the planet reportedly receives about 100 times more radiation than Earth, which makes the odds of microbes surviving in the atmosphere unlikely.
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LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: Professor Stephen Hawking attends the UK Premiere of 'The Theory Of Everything' at Odeon Leicester Square on December 9, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: The world's best know scientist Professor Stephen Hawking takes VisitLondon.com's Official Guest of Honour Adaeze Uyanwah on a personal guided tour of his favourite places in the city's famous Science Museum on February 18, 2015 in London, England. On the tour Professor Hawking said he was pleased to lend his synthesised 'voice' to actor Eddie Redmayne for his Oscar-nominated performance in The Theory of Everything but added ' unfortunatley Eddie did not inherit my good looks.' (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for London & Partners)
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking poses for a picture ahead of a gala screening of the documentary film 'Hawking', a film about his life, at the opening night of the Cambridge Film Festival in Cambridge, eastern England on September 19, 2013. Hawking tells the extraordinary tale of how he overcame severe disability to become the most famous living scientist in a new documentary film premiered in Britain. (Photo credit: ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images)