A very interesting announcement has been made today. A team of astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri. The significance of this is firstly that the planet is only slightly larger than the Earth (at a minimum, it is 30% more massive), secondly, that Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our solar system, and finally that the planet seems to get about as much light from the star as the Earth does. The final point is important because it could mean that the planet’s surface has a similar temperature to the Earth’s surface, meaning there could be liquid water.
Here is the BBC News article
Here is the original paper from the journal Nature
Just a quick note, there is no reason to believe that there is life on the planet, so let’s not get too excited.
From what I’ve read, red dwarf stars are unstable and may be unsuitable to sustain life. Also there are many other factors involved in sustaining life such as our massive gas giant Jupiter which acts as a cosmic vacuum cleaner that is guarding the inner solar system from space debris with its enormous gravity and allowing life to keep developing for tens of millions of years without any major impact. Also we have a moon which creates ocean currents which in turn allow life in the ocean to exist, and we have a geologically active planet which gives us a magnetic field which shields us from solar winds. The list goes on. The whole thing seems terribly complicated and I don’t really believe that we have a chance of discovering anything but microbes on other planets. It’s a fun discovery though.
Nice! Thanks for posting this.
Yes, there are so many factors involved. I am also skeptical we will discover any sort of complex life on other planets, but I have no idea and neither does anybody else.
Another very interesting factor, which I throw out here basically at random, is plate tectonics. The atmospheres of Venus and Mars are both dominated by carbon dioxide, which on Venus has led to a runaway greenhouse effect and a very hot surface. The Earth in fact likely has enough carbon dioxide under the ground to make an atmosphere that is similar to that of Venus. If this carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere, and not under the ground, there would be no life here. A big factor in why there is not more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that it is removed by rain into the oceans, and ends up being taken down into the Earth at subduction zones, where one plate is pushed down into the Earth by its collision with another plate. This balances the input of carbon into the atmosphere from volcanoes.
So certainly it’s a complicated situation. We know only very few planets, and those that we know, we mostly know almost nothing about, and the few that we do know something about are still mostly mysterious to us.
You seem to be very well read on this subject. I read up on it years ago and even subscribed to this youtube channel that was run by an astronomer. I lost interest though because every debate beneath the videos ended up being about religion, and also there were a lot of ***holes there who, rather than respectfully enlightening people who asked basic questions, would berate them for their ignorance. This unfriendly cut-throat athmosphere made me lose interest, but I still find it interesting to hear about a planet around Proxima Centauri, which I knew was the closest star to earth. Now if only we could go there. Lol. Unfortunately, Einstein had a few opinions on that matter.
It’s actually my research topic which is why it interests me so much.
Here is a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) from some of the people who made the discovery. These people are not assholes and genuinely know what they are talking about.
It would be great if more astronomers would do this stuff. I might try convince the research group I work in, who also studies these questions, to do one of these.
Well that certainly explains your knowledge. I thought you were a teacher.