The closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf that may, or may not, be part of the Alpha Centuari binary star system. If Proxima Centauri were found to be gravitationally bound to the binary star, then Alpha Centuari would become known as a trinary, or triple, star system.
But in what may prove to be the most exciting find to date, the German weekly Der Spiegel announced recently that astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, just 4.25 light-years away. Yes, in what is an apparent trifecta, this newly-discovered exoplanet is Earth-like, orbits within its sun’s habitable zone, and is within our reach. But is this too good to be true?
As an aside. With the Sun halfway through its ten billion year lifespan, we’ll be on the look out for a new home eventually, and it’s thought that relocating to a planet orbiting a red dwarf might be a good move. Red dwarf stars live for trillions of years, so our descendants wouldn’t need to think about moving again for a long, long, time.
If a habitable planet were found to be orbiting Proxima Centauri, might it one day become our new residence?
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been in orbit around the red planet since March 2006, where it has been taking photos of the surface ever since. Recently NASA released just over one thousand of these images, taken in the last few months.
I think its fair to say the photos reveal a planet with an incredibly diverse surface. A case in point has to be both of these photos. The top picture is of a region near the North Pole. The second is of an area in the Southern Highlands. More images can be seen here.
Gorgeous galaxies and stunning stars make up this selection of pictures from the shortlisted entries for this year’s Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year award. The winners will be announced on 15 September, and an exhibition of the winning images will be will be displayed in a free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Astronomy Centre from 17 September.
Having spent five years travelling to Jupiter, via the scenic route, NASA’s space probe Juno, will, next week, place itself in a polar orbit around the solar system’s largest planet, and spend the next eighteen months learning more about Jupiter’s formation, composition, and its gravitational and magnetic fields.
At the end of its mission, Juno will be sent into Jupiter’s atmosphere, to ensure its destruction, lest it end up crash landing on, and contaminating, Europa, a Jovian moon that some scientists think may host marine life of some sort.
Even if you don’t want to go there yourself – it’s cold, you’d need to live underground, mail can takes years to get through, and so on – you can help with the effort to explore Mars, by pinning up these promotional posters, encouraging others to emigrate to the red planet.
The solar system is host to eight regular planets, any number of dwarf planets, and now, possibly, an exoplanet. That’s if the planetary body, known as Planet 9, that is said to orbit on the far fringes of the solar system, can be shown to have originated elsewhere, something mathematical modelling suggests is possible.
Through a computer-simulated study, astronomers at Lund University in Sweden show that it is highly likely that the so-called Planet 9 is an exoplanet. This would make it the first exoplanet to be discovered inside our own solar system. The theory is that our sun, in its youth some 4.5 billion years ago, stole Planet 9 from its original star.
It’s one thing to lose your job, but to lose your job in a place you cannot possibly leave, is another matter all together. This is the predicament that an explorer of Mars – who was sent to the red planet on a one way, no return trip ever, sort of undertaking – finds himself in. Thus you have the premise for Fired on Mars, a short film by Nick Vokey and Nate Sherman.
SETI scientists had developed procedures for announcing the discovery of, or contact with, an extraterrestrial intelligence, more than thirty years ago. Long before the internet became mainstream, and the advent of social media.
But there is a problem. Since the guidelines were written, the way news stories evolve and spread through society has changed dramatically. In the 1980s, 24-hour news channels were a novelty. Now they have been superseded by Internet news sites and aggregators such as Reddit and Slashdot and by online social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and so on.
So, how would they go about disseminating such news now? It looks as if the process will need to thought through again.