We have all heard at least a few conspiracy theories regarding extra terrestrial beings. While many of them sound plain stupid, they are nevertheless tantalizing. What is out there?
Well, Proxima B is one of the things out there. Scientists have recently discovered a rocky planet that looks so similar to our very own Earth that it has got them thinking about the possibility of life existing outside of Earth.
In a research published in the journal Nature, the International team of researchers who discovered the planet describe how they used the data based on the light emitted by Proxima Centauri to study it. Their experiments were based at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, as reported by the Guardian. Guillem Anglada-Escudé, co-author of the research from Queen Mary, University of London, described the team’s process.
“What we basically do is measure how the star is moving. If you have a planet around a star, the planet is also pulling the star a bit so you see the star is moving. It is going towards you and away from you, periodically.”
The planet, which has been named Proxima B, lies in the so-called “habitable zone” of the star Proxima Centauri. The habitable zone is a range within the orbits around a star which is neither too hot nor too cold, and is hence perfect to sustain liquid water, very much like our own Earth.
“There is a reasonable expectation that this planet might be able to host life, yes.”
And the new planet, Proxima B is not very far — considering the vastness of our universe– from ours. The planet, which is at least 1.3 times the mass of earth, orbits the star nearest to our sun, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.
Hundreds of exoplanets — planets that orbit stars other than the sun — that may harbor life, have been discovered in recent years. But what makes Proxima B an exciting prospect is its proximity to earth. It is the closest planet to have been discovered so far with the potential to sustain life. An astrophysiscist at the Jordel Bank Centre for Astrophysics, Eamonn Kerin, explained why he was so excited about the discovery.
“Finding out that the nearest star to the sun hosts not just a planet, not just an Earth-sized planet, but one which is in the right location that it could support life – and there are a lot of caveats there – really underscores that not only are planets very common in our galaxy, but potentially habitable planets are common.”
The planet is about 4.2 light years away from Earth and with existing technology a probe launched now would take around 70,000 years to reach the new planet. In astronomical terms, this is quite close.
Although the prospect of having a new habitable planet or meeting alien life seems exciting, it will take several more years of research just to confirm that Proxima B can indeed sustain life. It is true that the planet lies in the habitable zone, but there are several factors that affect a planet’s ability to support life.
Proxima B is only 4.4 million miles away from its star, just five percent of the distance separating the Earth and the Sun, and so takes only 11.2 days to complete one revolution around its star. But despite being this close to its star, Proxima B, is in the habitable zone considering that Proxima Centauri is a dim red dwarf star and therefore radiates much less heat than the sun.
However, such proximity to a star means Proxima B receives greater doses of high-energy radiation. It is unknown whether the planet has a magnetic field that could potentially protect it from such radiation. Furthermore, there is no evidence yet that shows the existence of water or an atmosphere that can sustain life.
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