Earth-Like Planet Found Orbiting the Nearest Star

A new planet discovered orbiting the closest star to Earth’s solar system could have the conditions to harbour life, according to a team of international scientists. This is the breakthrough astronomers hoped for.

The exoplanet (a planet that circles a star other than our sun) was found orbiting Proxima Centauri and has been given the identifier Proxima b. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star (a star with a lower mass than our sun) located four light-years from the solar system.

The star, which sits in the constellation of Centaurus between the two bright stars that point to the Southern Cross, is too faint to be seen with the unaided eye. The international team led by scientists from Queen Mary University of London discovered the new planet after observing a “doppler wobble” — the effect caused by the planet’s gravitational tug on the motion of its host star.

Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light years away, the closest star to our solar system. The star lies in the constellation Centaurus, near the Southern Cross, but is too faint to be seen with the naked eye.

Careful analysis of the tiny doppler shifts indicated the presence of a planet with a mass at least 1.3 times of the Earth, orbiting about 7 million kilometres from Proxima Centauri — only 5 per cent of the distance between the Earth and the sun.

Proxima b orbits its parent star every 11.2 days, and scientists say its estimated temperature would allow liquid water to exist on its surface. According to the report, the findings “naturally raise the question of whether Proxima Centauri b could harbour life”.

Astronomers detected the planet by measuring its influence. The planet’s gravity causes its star to wobble in a pattern repeated every 11.2 days, which is one year on Proxima b. The wobble is detectable as a slight shift in the color of Proxima Centauri’s starlight.

“Proxima b is in what is known as the Habitable (or Goldilocks) Zone which means it’s not too hot and its not too cold,” Professor Tim Bedding of the University of Sydney said of the study.”There’s no reason to know whether or not there is life there, but the fact that the planet exists and is in the zone where liquid water might exist on the surface is very exciting.”

an artist’s impression of the planet Proxima b, which is too small to be seen with existing telescopes. The planet orbits Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf slightly larger than Jupiter. The other two stars in the Alpha Centauri system are Alpha Centauri A and B, each about the mass of the sun.

Dr John Barnes, a co-author of the study, said: “If further research concludes that the conditions of its atmosphere are suitable to support life, this is arguably one of the most important scientific discoveries we will ever make.” Prior to the discovery of Proxima b, the closest-known potentially habitable exoplanet was Wolf 1061c, located 14 light-years away.

“Many of the planets discovered up until now have been much further away”, Dr Bedding explained. “Astronomically speaking this planet is on our doorstep”.  Adapted: ABC News

Look Live On Earth’s Newest Neighbor With Sloth

On Friday, August 26, at 5:00 pm PDT / 8:00 pm EDT (International Times: http://bit.ly/2bxbWH8), Slooh will host a special broadcast exploring Proxima-b, a brand new world discovered by the European Southern Observatory. The broadcast will feature live views of the exoplanet’s parent star, Proxima Centauri, the closest star system to Earth, through Slooh’s Chile telescopes, along with expert commentary from exoplanet researchers, and members of the ESO team responsible for the momentous discovery.

During the broadcast host Eric Edelman will be joined by Michael Endl from the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin, who worked on the ESO team that made the discovery. They’ll discuss how the team managed to find an Earth-like planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri. They’ll also explore what the team has learned so far about this mysterious “nearby” planet, and what they hope to learn in the future.

Eric will also be joined by Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, to discuss the implications of the discovery. They’ll explore the chances of life on the planet, and what this discovery means for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

According to the ESO, Proxima-b is a planet roughly the same mass as Earth, orbiting in the habitable zone of its host star, Proxima Centauri. The planet is in a prime position to support liquid water, an important component to supporting life as we know it. But the planet’s proximity to its star makes the chances for life on the surface questionable. Because Proxima Centauri is a cool red dwarf star, the planet is five times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, causing it to experience high levels of X-ray and UV radiation. These topics and others will be covered in Friday’s live broadcast.

Proxima has long been of fascination to astronomers, especially those looking to the future of human exploration of the universe. Sitting just over four light-years from Earth’s own solar system, Proxima Centauri offers the best chance humanity has to travel to another star system without the invention of faster-than-light travel. The discovery of Proxima-b offers a brand new motivation for future study and exploration of this system.

“Proxima Centauri was one of the first objects Slooh members pointed the new telescopes to when we launched our southern hemisphere in Chile back in 2007. We received an early alert from the Pale Red Dot campaign a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve been imaging the star every clear night since,” said Slooh Astronomer, Paul Cox. “It’s amazing to watch that small red dot live in the online telescopes every night — and imagine the Earth-like world that we now know orbits the star. With the possibility that liquid water exists on ‘Proxima b,’ who knows, there may be some Centaurian amateur astronomers gazing back at us every night!”

Viewers can ask questions and interact with the host and guests during the show by tweeting @Slooh or by joining in on the live chat on Slooh.com.

‘Breakthrough Starshot’

Starshot Breakthrough Initiative

The story of humanity is a story of great leaps – out of Africa, across oceans, to the skies and into space. Since Apollo 11’s ‘moonshot’, we have been sending our machines ahead of us – to planets, comets, even interstellar space.

But with current rocket propulsion technology, it would take tens or hundreds of millennia to reach our neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri. The stars, it seems, have set strict bounds on human destiny. Until now.

In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.

The next star over has a planet that’s kinda like ours.

Breakthrough Starshot aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.

A number of hard engineering challenges remain to be solved before these missions can become a reality. They are listed here, for consideration by experts and public alike, as part of the initiative’s commitment to full transparency and open access. The initiative will also establish a research grant program, and will make available other funding to support relevant scientific and engineering research and development.

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