Astronomers say it’s the most exciting thing since Childress’s 2003 Anti-Gravity Handbook (which they claim is impossible to put down) – the discovery of a new earth-like planet creatively named Proxima-B. It’s an incredible discovery because Proxima-B is roughly the same size as earth, the same mass as earth, and orbits a star in the habitable zone (the distance from the star which allows liquid water to exist). This of course means, yes, little green aliens!
Proxima-B’s star, Proxima Centauri, is part of a triple-star system called Alpha Centauri and is the closest star to Earth. The three stars in Alpha Centauri include Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri (the star Proxima-B was found orbiting around). You can see Alpha Centauri in the night sky (don’t forget to wave) but it appears as a single “star”, albeit the third-brightest star in the night sky (outshone only by Sirius and Canopus).
There have been a few discoveries of earth-like planets but they are over 1,000 light years from Earth. Travelling at 1/5 the speed of light – still very, very fast – it would take more than 5,000 years to reach them. The Proxima Centauri star is only 4.2 light years from earth which means an astronaut could make the trip in their lifetime and maybe even make it back before retirement age.
Scientists are already discussing the possibility of travelling to Proxima-B but there are some concerns. Proxima Centauri is a red-dwarf and they are notorious for their embarrassingly violent outbursts. This means, we may not be able to survive a visit to Proxima-B which kind of defeats the purpose.
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you might not be able to see Alpha Centauri. But for those south of Houston or Orlando, you can probably see it just a few degrees above the southern horizon.
For those in the southern hemisphere, it can be seen by first spotting the Southern Cross, the follow a line along the crossbar. The bright star is the Alpha Centauri system.