Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

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Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Mambrino » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:34 pm UTC

European Southern Observatory: Planet Found in Habitable Zone Around Nearest Star

Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri. The long-sought world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us — and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System. A paper describing this milestone finding will be published in the journal Nature on 25 August 2016.


Proxima Centauri is only 4.2 light years away!

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby flicky1991 » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:36 pm UTC

So once we're done colonising the Solar System, this is our next stop!
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Dauric » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:47 pm UTC

flicky1991 wrote:So once we're done colonising the Solar System, this is our next stop!


Given the challenges of colonizing the rocky planets in the Sol system (Mercury: wayyyy to hot, Venus: astonishingly corrosive and toxic atmosphere, Mars: while the least challenging, the lack of a strong magnetosphere makes radiation a problem and pressurized habitats a necessity), if Proxima B turns out to be a "garden" world it could actually be easier to colonize than our own solar system.

An orbital period of 11 days might be concerning (very small orbital insertion window), and depending on the planet's axial tilt the rapidly changing tidal forces on that planet could make life exciting, but it's still an interesting find.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Zohar » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:51 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:if Proxima B turns out to be a "garden" world it could actually be easier to colonize than our own solar system.

I very much doubt that's true. We don't know what challenges await us there, but there's not much reason to think they're easier or less complicated than the ones we'll face colonizing the rest of the solar system. And it has a huuuuuge additional hurdle, by being so far away (comparatively).
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Aug 24, 2016 8:15 pm UTC

Star being prone to flaring up would seem to be bad news for local life. Coupla degree shift is annoying for us, the whole sun lighting off would be a very bad day.

Yknow, in addition to it being a bit of a jaunt.

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby flicky1991 » Wed Aug 24, 2016 8:16 pm UTC

Mambrino wrote:orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days
Seasons could be a little crazy...
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Dauric » Wed Aug 24, 2016 8:30 pm UTC

flicky1991 wrote:
Mambrino wrote:orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days
Seasons could be a little crazy...

Meh... Spring and Fall in Colorado we can easily go from 70-80 degree (fahrenheit) days to blizzards overnight.

If anything such a short orbital period might mean that while the length of a day changes dramatically over the course of a week, the overall temperature probably doesn't change as much. Heat retained by ground and surface water would mitigate a lot of ambient atmospheric temperature variations.

Of course this depends on the planet's rotation in relation to the star as well. If it rotates slow enough (almost but not quite tide-locked) you could have a "Day/Night" cycle based on the planet's motion around the star, and a "yearly" cycle based on the planet's rotation.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby SDK » Wed Aug 24, 2016 8:53 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:If anything such a short orbital period might mean that while the length of a day changes dramatically over the course of a week, the overall temperature probably doesn't change as much. Heat retained by ground and surface water would mitigate a lot of ambient atmospheric temperature variations.

This. It's Wednesday. Grab your coat!

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Dauric » Wed Aug 24, 2016 9:00 pm UTC

SDK wrote:
Dauric wrote:If anything such a short orbital period might mean that while the length of a day changes dramatically over the course of a week, the overall temperature probably doesn't change as much. Heat retained by ground and surface water would mitigate a lot of ambient atmospheric temperature variations.

This. It's Wednesday. Grab your coat!

... Can't wait for Sunday to come back 'round again.


Man, the ski resorts are only open on Wednesday and I always have to work that day.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby SDK » Wed Aug 24, 2016 9:16 pm UTC

Just because it only snows on Wednesdays and Thursdays doesn't mean you can't ski on the weekend. Just hope it doesn't rain on Friday to turn everything to spring time slush.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby elasto » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:24 pm UTC

Before too long we might even be able to get a picture of the planet itself. Another reminder that we're 'living in the future'...

One priority for the future will be to get a direct image of the planet. This should be possible with the European Extremely Large Telescope now under construction in Chile. It is being given a 39m-wide primary mirror and state-of-the-art instrumentation precisely to do this kind of observation.

"A planet around even a wimpy star like Proxima Centauri is going to be more than a billion times fainter than the star itself. So, what you do is block out the light from the star using a special device and that allows you then to go deeper into the star's surroundings," explained Cambridge University's Prof Gerry Gilmore.

"This is one of the E-ELT's design goals. There's also a Nasa mission under development called W-First. It will have a high-resolution coronagraphic mode which again is designed for the same purpose."

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Qaanol » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:46 pm UTC

wee free kings

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Vahir » Thu Aug 25, 2016 1:11 am UTC

I think we can safely forget any dreams of colonizing Proxima Centauri; space is BIG. A quick google search tells me that Voyager 1 has the fastest speed of any probe in space, at 17,000 m/s. Quick math (I will become a flagellant if this is wrong) tells me that it would take 75,000 years to reach the star at that speed. Unless technology becomes vastly different, it's not gonna happen.

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby sardia » Thu Aug 25, 2016 1:36 am UTC

Vahir wrote:I think we can safely forget any dreams of colonizing Proxima Centauri; space is BIG. A quick google search tells me that Voyager 1 has the fastest speed of any probe in space, at 17,000 m/s. Quick math (I will become a flagellant if this is wrong) tells me that it would take 75,000 years to reach the star at that speed. Unless technology becomes vastly different, it's not gonna happen.

The current strategy is to go either super small, or to use nukes. Rough math was like the US/Russian nuclear inventory converted into nuclear pulse rocket engine would get you to .2c speed. Not too shabby without super science, eh?

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Opus_723 » Thu Aug 25, 2016 2:00 am UTC

sardia wrote:The current strategy is to go either super small, or to use nukes. Rough math was like the US/Russian nuclear inventory converted into nuclear pulse rocket engine would get you to .2c speed. Not too shabby without super science, eh?


Pssssh. Barely anything weird happens at .2c. If you're only going to dilate time intervals by 2%, just go home. :wink:

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:55 am UTC

Project Orion envisioned a 133 year trip to Alpha Centauri.

Daedalus was designed as a 50 year mission to Barnard's Star a little bit further out. I haven't read what the successor program, Icarus, came up with yet.

Breakthrough Starshot has designs on a 30 year mission to Alpha Centauri.

With evidence of a 'goldilocks zone' planet, and as launch costs come down in the near future, I wouldn't be surprised to see some serious proposals to launch an interstellar probe put forth in the next ten-twenty years, and a launch within the next fifty.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Lucrece » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:09 am UTC

Too bad one won't live to see it, let alone the economics surrounding colonization most certainly assuring that no one but the few richest in the planet become the first able to even make it into the first programs.

So, hurray, some potential progeny far off in the future you will no longer be aware of given the termination of your conscious state MAY make a trip there, possibly.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby SDK » Thu Aug 25, 2016 1:04 pm UTC

Lucrece wrote:So, hurray, some potential progeny far off in the future you will no longer be aware of given the termination of your conscious state MAY make a trip there, possibly.

I guess you don't live in the future after all.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Zohar » Thu Aug 25, 2016 1:09 pm UTC

SDK wrote:I guess you don't live in the future after all.

Maybe they live in future?
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Aug 25, 2016 3:42 pm UTC

Lucrece wrote:Too bad one won't live to see it, let alone the economics surrounding colonization most certainly assuring that no one but the few richest in the planet become the first able to even make it into the first programs.

So, hurray, some potential progeny far off in the future you will no longer be aware of given the termination of your conscious state MAY make a trip there, possibly.


That's true for everything, on earth or not. The future is a foreign country as well.

Thankfully, I plan to cryogenically freeze myself for the trip there.

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Lucrece » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:35 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
Lucrece wrote:Too bad one won't live to see it, let alone the economics surrounding colonization most certainly assuring that no one but the few richest in the planet become the first able to even make it into the first programs.

So, hurray, some potential progeny far off in the future you will no longer be aware of given the termination of your conscious state MAY make a trip there, possibly.


That's true for everything, on earth or not. The future is a foreign country as well.

Thankfully, I plan to cryogenically freeze myself for the trip there.



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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby sardia » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:59 pm UTC

Let's just send out seed ships that will be frozen until they arrive. Much easier logistics than food and water recyclers.

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby SlyReaper » Sat Aug 27, 2016 12:19 pm UTC

Orbiting that close to its star, I would expect it to be tidally locked to the star. So there will be a hot side and a cold side, and maybe a moderately temperate zone somewhere between the substellar point and the day-night terminator.

It would be interesting to find out the characteristics of its atmosphere. A thick enough atmosphere could even out the temperatures over the surface, providing a larger "temperate" surface area than a thinner atmosphere would. A thick atmosphere would also offer a modicum of protection against those flares. Such a world might not be particularly hospitable for humans, but it's not impossible to imagine some kind of life thriving there.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby Mutex » Sat Aug 27, 2016 12:44 pm UTC

If there is any atmosphere left. Being tidally locked might mean that it's not spinning enough to generate a magnetic field and so its atmosphere has been blown away.

I didn't realise how long Red Dwarfs last though, Proxima Centauri will be around for another 4 trillion years.

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby pogrmman » Sat Aug 27, 2016 2:31 pm UTC

Mutex wrote:If there is any atmosphere left. Being tidally locked might mean that it's not spinning enough to generate a magnetic field and so its atmosphere has been blown away.

I didn't realise how long Red Dwarfs last though, Proxima Centauri will be around for another 4 trillion years.


It's still spinning once every 11 days -- slow, but not super slow (like Venus). At 1.3 earth masses, assuming a rocky composition, the core is probably still liquid. The magnetic field may be weaker than ours though due to this. It also probably used to spin much faster. In the paper, they suggested that if it is rocky, it migrated to its current location.

I'd say just as big of a concern for life is, according to the paper, that the eccentricity could be as high as .35. That seems like it would doom any life there.

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby SlyReaper » Sun Aug 28, 2016 10:33 am UTC

Again, a thick enough atmosphere would tend to even out any temperature fluctuations caused by orbital eccentricity, especially given the time difference between "summer" and "winter" would be just five and a half days.
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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby pogrmman » Sun Aug 28, 2016 3:54 pm UTC

SlyReaper wrote:Again, a thick enough atmosphere would tend to even out any temperature fluctuations caused by orbital eccentricity, especially given the time difference between "summer" and "winter" would be just five and a half days.


But with a weak planetary magnetic field if it is near to or fully tidally locked, a thick atmosphere is unlikely. Especially this close to a star that can be so variable.

I've never been optimistic about the possibility of life around red dwarves (other stars, I am optimistic about). IMO, the best chance for life around a red dwarf would be on a moon orbiting a close-in, massive planet. That way it doesn't suffer most of the problems associated with tidal locking to the star. Magnetic field may be an issue, but a moon tidally locked to its planet in an eccentric orbit should have no problems sustaining a magnetic field of its own, not to mention the field that may be in place due to its planet.

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Re: Earth-mass planet found in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri

Postby SlyReaper » Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:11 pm UTC

I would point out that Venus' magnetic field is extremely weak, and is closer to the source of solar wind than us - it seems to have held onto a thick atmosphere quite well. What little magnetic field it does have seems to be caused by the solar wind itself, interacting with Venus' ionosphere. It doesn't offer as much protection as ours, but it's apparently more than enough. What it does lose may or may not be getting replenished by volcanoes on the surface - I think the jury is still out on that one.

The point is an internally generated magnetic field isn't a strict pre-condition to having a thick atmosphere. It just helps.

I don't see the star's variability being a huge issue. Life would most likely first form underwater, where those variations don't matter too much. After it takes hold there, moving onto land and dealing with the associated difficulties would simply be a matter of evolution. The main danger would be getting locked into a global ice age that kills off that primordial life before it has a chance to get established.
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