Astronomers discover nearest neighboring planet

For a number of years, scientists and astronomers have excitedly announced the discovery of Earth like planets.  These much heralded discoveries are interesting in terms of the science behind the discoveries, and in terms of changing the way we think about our world, and our place in the greater universe.  But they are always so far away!

Scientists have even named the potential habitable region around stars as the “Goldilocks Zone” which is similar to the orbit that Earth spins around the Sun, and offers potential for life to exist with moderate temperatures which allows for water to be presenting its liquid form.


Earth is a Goldilocks Planet

Indeed, we are fortunate to exist on a temperate planet, called Earth, orbiting around a stable and predictable star, called The Sun.  It is interesting that there may be hundreds of other planets out in the universe that meet similar requirements for habitation, such as temperature, atmospheric composition, gravitational forces, and the generic conditions under which life may exist.

But when all possible Earth like planets are so far away, the possibilities for further scientific exploration are simply impossible.  So the dream of exploring other worlds has remained exactly that – just a dream!


So close yet so far…

Nearest neighboring planetUntil recently that is… Our nearest neighboring star is the relatively well known Alpha Centauri, which although a tantalising 4.37 light years away from Earth, remains out of reach even for the biggest dreamers.  And it has never been shown to have habitable planets orbiting around it.  So scientists have been forced to look further out into the universe to discover other planets.

However, you may not have heard of Alpha Centauri’s smaller co-joined star, known as Proxima Centauri, which is gravitationally tied to Alpha Centauri.  In fact it is actually slightly closer to Earth, but is still 4 straight from the source.24 light years away.


Earth is not the only Goldilocks

But here is the exciting news – it appears as though Proxima Centauri has a satellite planet in orbit.  And the really exciting news is that the orbiting planet seems to be within the Goldilocks Zone.  So not only is the star our nearest neighbour, but the planet might be able to sustain liquid water, and possibly an atmosphere.

It is simply amazing that after years of looking thousands of light years into the distant universe for Earth like planets, there is a possibility that our nearest neighboring star may actually have what we have been looking for all along!

The issue with the discovery of this little planet is that scientists are really at the edge of current telescope technology, and even though the planet has been suspected for some time, it has simply been beyond the capability of the biggest and best telescopes to be able to confirm the existence of the planet for sure.

What the planet consists of and whether it can support life is a complete unknown, but anything is possible!

And there is only one way to find out!

Instead of being faced with a distance of thousands of light years, we can almost be optimistic of the thought of a mere 4.24 light years. Or can we? Considering we can’t even hope to travel at anywhere close to the speed of light, it will take a lot longer than 4.24 years to get close to exploring this new found planet.

Well, have you heard of the innovative program called “Breakthrough Starshot”.

Funded my Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, and part of his wider Breakthrough initiatives, a proposed design of a interstellar exploration spacecraft, using the laser light sail technology could provide a possible future option. Touted as being able to travel at speeds of 15% up to 20% of the speed of light, an interstellar space craft would need 20 to 30 years to reach the Alpha Centauri group of stars. Even if this project is launched as possible, the space probe would still need to send signals back to Earth that would take 4 years to make it back to us!


Project Starshot

We live in exciting times, when at both ends of the exploration spectrum, scientists are constantly making breakthroughs both in terms of discoveries at the very edge of telescope technology, and simultaneously, developing space travel technology to make distant exploration possible.

The possible discovery of a nearby planet orbiting our closest star is a revelation to all those budding astronomers here on Earth.  But it is made all the more exciting that other space explorers are close to developing a means to actually explore such distant and remote regions of the universe.

These breakthroughs highlight that there is still so much to be learnt about the universe, as well as our own solar system, that astronomy is really only in its infant stages of exploration and development.

The Possibilities are Endless

Who knows, it is distinctly possible that other potential planets can be discovered around Alpha Centauri, and maybe even some of the other nearby stars.  And if the technology innovations allow us to send a space probe to these distant solar systems, there may very well be further discoveries to be made on these distant worlds.

Keep your telescope pointed upwards, and your mind open to a whole realm of possibilities!


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One Response to “Astronomers discover nearest neighboring planet”

  1. calRowena

    Mar 03. 2018

    I can’t believe there are other planets so close to ours

    Reply to this comment

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