Astronomers discover the nearest exoplanet

An imaginary view from Proxima b – credits: National Geographic

Very interesting astronomical news: on August 25th the scientific magazine Nature reported that a rocky planet, with a mass similar to our Earth, has been observed orbiting around our cosmic neighbor, the ternary system of Alpha Centauri.

This star system is composed of the stars Alpha Centauri a and b, very close to each other, plus a third small companion called Proxima Centauri that revolves around the couple. The trio is located at about 4.4 light years from our Sun.

The three stars of Alpha Centauri and our Sun for comparison.
The three stars of Alpha Centauri and our Sun for comparison.

The discovered planet revolves around Proxima Centauri at a distance that allows the presence of liquid water on its surface (temperate orbit). The celestial body has been baptized, with not too much fantasy, Proxima b. Because the distance unfortunately there are no pictures of the planet, not even an image of it overlapping Proxima, because it has only been indirectly observed from a Chilean observatory by measuring the feeble gravitational perturbation that the planet produces on Proxima.

It is ahead of time to say that Proxima b can host life because its star is quite active and subject to frequent solar flares, however the planet remains a potential candidate for life detection.

Thanks to the relatively short distance from us Proxima b is probably the best candidate for an hypothetical interstellar exploration mission however, with our current propulsion technology, 4 or 4000 light years make no big difference: the planet remains outside our reach, unless we accept to send probes that will take centuries to reach the Alpha Centauri system.

Well.. I guess that if we want to test PNN interstellar capabilities Proxima b will be the best choice 🙂


Source: Nature

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