Hey, everyone! Wow. I take a few days off with my family, and look what happens. If ever the Internet could explode with astronomy news, it has today. This is really amazing.
An exoplanet has been found orbiting in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to Earth other than the Sun. Proxima Centauri then orbits Alpha Centauri. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star other than the Sun. I’ve never really liked the term, though it seems necessary and helpful, because it strikes me as being a bit too heliocentric and, by extension, androcentric, for what’s being looked for.
This is only about 4 light years away; no other exoplanet could be closer to us. Since it’s in Proxima Centauri’s habitable zone, the planet is at just the right distance from the star that any water there is could remain liquid. If it were closer, the planet would be warmer and the water would evaporate. Farther, and the planet would be cooler, so the water would freeze. The Earth is in the Sun’s habitable zone.
On Earth, where there’s water, there’s life. So, while it’s probably unlikely, there could, and let’s really bold, italicize, and underline *could* be life there. There’s been no signs of it; just a rocky planet in the right place, orbiting the very nearest star. It’s still promising, though. If you were going to send a mission to hunt for life, where better to go than the nearest star?
Proxima Centauri isn’t a Star like the Sun. It’s a much smaller and cooler red dwarf, so the habitable zone is much closer in than our Sun’s is: this planet’s year is only 11.2 Earth days long!
This is amazing, amazing news, and I hope someone is having a pint of Guinness raised in their honor. Imagine looking up at the night sky and not just wondering and hoping if anyone is looking back, but knowing someone is. Who knows? Before too too long, people could be visiting that planet. When we do, we’ll be the alien life, not anyone who might live there. What will we learn about them, the universe, and about ourselves?
Here’s more from Sky and Telescope, and clear skies!