A planet with the possible presence of liquid water on its surface has been discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri, the Sun’s nearest neighbour, scientists have said, according to Reuters. A paper published by a team of 31 international researchers in Nature says that the planet, Proxima b, is located approximately 4.2 light-years (40 trillion kilometres) from the Earth and has “some characteristics similar” to it.

Astronomer Ansgar Reiners told reporters that the relatively small distance between Earth and the newly-discovered planet will allow for an easier investigation of its features in the future. “The key question of our initiative was whether there were potentially life-bearing planets orbiting these stars,” added Pete Worden, a former executive at the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The paper goes on to say that further studies may confirm if Proxima b’s atmosphere contains chemicals that can indicate the presence of biological life, such as methane.

However, scientists are unsure whether red dwarf stars (typically many times smaller and dimmer than the Sun) like Proxima Centauri can provide enough energy to allow planets orbiting them to support life. The planet was found after the team made repeated measurements of slight shifts in the colour of light coming from its host star. It is the nearest of around 3,500 planets discovered beyond the solar system since 1995, according to the paper published in Nature.