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The Story of Proxima Centauri

By: Yuri Beletsky

 

Region: Americas

Site: La Silla - Chile

Date: 2016

As seen on Astronomy Picture of the Day, the closest star beyond our Solar System has a potentially habitable planet. Although only 4.25 light years away, Proxima Centauri is just a red dwarf, a small low-mass star in the southern constellation of Centaurus, at magnitude of 11 it is far too faint to be seen with the naked eye, or not even with a small pair of binocular.
But Proxima has a planet similar to the Earth, announced as a break-through discovery in August 2016. The observations that confirmed the planet also tells it inhabits a zone where its surface temperature could allow liquid water, a key ingredient for life on Earth. It is not yet known if this planet, Proxima b, has any life. Even if not, its potential ability to sustain liquid water might make it a good first hop for humanity's future trips out into the Milky Way Galaxy.
The image shows the sky location of Proxima in southern skies behind the telescope that made many of the discovery observations: ESO's 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile. The discovered planet orbits close in -- so close one year there takes only 11 days on Earth. If Proxima b does have intelligent life, at 4.25 light years distance it is close enough to Earth for two-way communication. Yuri Beletsky, ESO

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