We've Got A Next-Door Neighbor
Start writing a post
Student Life

We've Got A Next-Door Neighbor

Our closest planetary neighbor lives in the system next door -- yep, Proxima Centauri's got a planet.

13
We've Got A Next-Door Neighbor
CNET

We're always searching for exoplanets, and it looks like we've found one that's probably as close as it could possibly be. In a paper published in Nature on August 25, researchers shared their observations of what looks like the closest planet outside our solar system.

Now, the universe is pretty huge, and we're pretty small, so distances in space are pretty astronomical. The closest star to us, obviously, is the Sun. But outside our solar system, the next best thing is Proxima Centauri. It's a red dwarf, the smallest, dimmest, most long-lived type of star and the most common in our galaxy. Red dwarf stars are generally difficult to observe because they're so small and dim, but Proxima Centauri is the most well-observed star of its kind because it's really close by -- only 4.25 light years away! Of course, this small number doesn't mean it's really very close; 4.25 light years is roughly equivalent to 40 trillion kilometers. That's still pretty far, and it would take thousands of years to get there with current spacecraft.

Besides its importance as the most easily observable red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri also looks like it's got some company -- scientists have found evidence of a planet in its orbit. Dubbed Proxima b, this exoplanet has about 1.3 times the Earth's mass and fits snugly into its star's habitable zone.

Now, Proxima b may not be our best candidate for extraterrestrial life, despite its position in relation to Proxima Centauri. The habitable zone is, after all, just the region in which a planet can sustain liquid water on its surface. Just because it can, doesn't mean it will; Mars and Venus are within the Sun's habitable zone, but they're not exactly brimming with water, let alone what we'd call habitable.

We don't know much about Proxima b's atmosphere, or whether it has a magnetic field to protect it from radiation and stellar winds -- Mars doesn't have a magnetic field, so while it used to have a significant atmosphere, much of it got blown away.

Proxima b's close proximity (7.5 million kilometers) to Proxima Centauri might also render it tidally locked. That means it would orbit with one side permanently facing the star and one side always facing away, just like the Moon does in relation to the Earth. As one might imagine, the options of only boiling hot on the near side or freezing cold on the far side don't provide particularly pleasant living conditions. However, there might be small regions where the temperature of a tidally locked planet might make those areas habitable, and heat could be redistributed to some degree with oceans and an atmosphere. Those are a lot of factors to consider, and, of course, we don't know whether or not the planet is actually tidally locked.

Despite the conundrum that is Proxima b's habitability, the finding is still really important. This is the closest exoplanet to our solar system, and unless a rogue planet is whizzing around nearer to us, this is the closest an exoplanet can even be. Its proximity means that we can observe it more easily than we can many other far-flung exoplanets; if the planet passes directly in front of its star, we can learn tons of stuff about it such as its atmospheric composition, and perhaps even directly image it.

So maybe we won't be meeting aliens next door, but figuring out that there's a house there at all is a pretty big deal. Whatever we learn about Proxima b, the fact that we get to learn anything about it at all is super cool. I, for one, can't wait to get to know our neighbor.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Featured

Planning Another Christmas Party

Don't just plan another plain party but get creative to have everyone wanting to come back next year!

6560
Getty Famous

You know it's Christmas when the radio stations change to all of your favorite holiday tunes, the air is still, and stores have the best sales. With all my favorite things from Christmas happening my least favorite probably has to be when I have to go to another same old boring Christmas party that I get invited to every year. Here are some Christmas party ideas so that you won't have another sad Christmas party.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

High School Soccer is Wildly Important

For Young Players Who Want to Succeed at The Next Level

12026
High School Soccer is Wildly Important

Whose choice is it? The parent? The player? There are a number of reasons that a kid may sit out of high school soccer, and to be completely honest; It is a huge mistake. High school soccer is the final piece in the puzzle that takes a player from above average or elite, to college ready by the end of their senior year. Every year thousands of talented athletes don't play for their high schools. Why though?

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

8 Things That Should Be On Everyone's Holiday To-Do List

December is around the corner, are you ready?

9798
8 Things That Should Be On Everyone's Holiday To-Do List
Unsplash.com

As they tend to say, its the most wonderful time of the year! People have begun to compile their Christmas to-do lists in anticipation for the season of sugarplums and gingerbread.

The history of the Christmas to-do lists goes back hundreds of years, almost as old as the holiday itself, however, people tend to fall out of this habit as they get older. This is unfortunate, as the theme of Christmas tradition can add bundles of the spirit of joy to your families.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

Fall Weather Must-Haves

Put away the swim suits and your favorite high-waisted shorts!

9755

The transitional months of fall can cause some fashion headaches as you try to figure out what clothing to keep in your closet. With limited amount of college living space and the ever-unpredictable Nebraska weather, sometimes it’s difficult to know what should be taking up that precious closet space as you transition into winter. As you pack away those tanks and shorts for the chilly months ahead, get your closet ready with a few Fall must-haves. 

Keep Reading... Show less
Content Inspiration

Top 3 Response Articles of This Week

Take a look at the articles driving big conversations on Odyssey.

8535
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/video/we-are-rollins-odyssey
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/video/we-are-rollins-odyssey

At Odyssey, we're on a mission to encourage constructive discourse on the Internet. That's why we created the response button you can find at the bottom of every article.

Keep Reading... Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments