Scientists have discovered a new planet called Proxima b which appears to be very similar to Earth orbiting Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf which happens to be in the same star system as the closest star to Earth called Alpha Centauri. The planet looks to be pretty rocky and is around 1.3 times the size of our planet. The discovery of this planet wasn’t an easy feat, with speculation that it was just a “wobbling star” deciding to hang around for quite some time.
See, scientists at the University of Hertfordshire have apparently been studying Proxima b since the year 2000. Up until 2009, the scientists collected research and data to prove the planet’s existence. However, this ultimately didn’t resolve into anything as more proof was needed to conclude that what they were looking at was, indeed, a planet. So in an effort to further confirm there was a planet in their sight, the latest observation campaign launched by the researchers called Pale Red Dot set out to detect a “wobble”-type movement Proxima Centauri was experiencing. The theory was that gravitational pulls from any planet orbiting the star would cause the fireball to begin slightly moving back and forth. But while Proxima Centauri remains a pretty active star and moves relatively often, it was pretty hard to say just what was causing this “wobble” effect.
However, a new study published in Nature has actually confirmed that what’s causing the movement of the star is indeed a planet’s gravitational pulls. This has given the scientists the conclusion they needed: what they were looking at is a planet.
A big discovery like this opens lots of new hope for space exploration. Some say Proxima b could be a second Earth-type home for humans to visit or even live on, while others say strictly research will be held to discover more about this planet so close to our’s. I tend to fall into the ones who believe research will be done upon Proxima b, as recent reports suggest that this may be the most worthy planet of investigating for extraterrestrial life within the foreseeable future.
See, as we gain new information about Proxima b and figure out what types of materials, atmospheres if any, and states of the planet there are, scientists believe this could be a worthy candidate to search for alien life. One indication that there may be life on the planet is due to it orbiting Proxima Centauri. Since this star is around ten times smaller than our Sun and is 15% in luminosity when compared to the yellow ball in the sky that shines on us all day, Proxima b can orbit around the fireball much faster. In fact, the planet orbits so much faster than Earth that just eleven Earth days equals one year on that planet. And since this is true, the proper temperature range for water to exist on the surface is present, so some type of life may be taking advantage of the liquid in some form or fashion. This isn’t confirmed as of yet, but it is a decent theory.
A takeaway of the possibility of life on Proxima b is atmosphere. Since the planet is orbiting Proxima Centauri, the activity caused by the star has opened the planet to exposure of 400 times the number of x-ray fluxes as Earth. This means that there’s a good chance any atmosphere left on the planet is probably gone, but again this is all theoretical.
All in all, what we’re looking at here could be the biggest astronomical discovery of the entire century. Only time will tell if this is true, but for now, we’re witnessing major history being made.