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Space & Astronomy

Proxima b is more Earth-like than we thought

By T.K. Randall
May 30, 2020 · Comment icon 11 comments

An artist's impression of the surface of Proxima b. Image Credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser
The closest known extrasolar planet may also be one of the most Earth-like worlds ever discovered.
Situated only 4.2 light years away in orbit around the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the terrestrial planet Proxima b, which was first discovered back in August 2016, could be a genuine Earth 2.0.

Previous studies had suggested that this neighboring world was around 1.3 times the mass of the Earth, but now new observations have revealed that it is actually much closer than that.

Key to this revelation was the Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO) instrument that is currently mounted on the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile.

"We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher), which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years," said study co-author Francesco Pepe from the University of Geneva.
"We're really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements, and it's gratifying and [a] just reward for the teamwork lasting nearly 10 years."

With the increased accuracy of the new instrument, it has turned out that Proxima b is only 17% more massive than the Earth, making it a much more likely candidate for supporting life.

Given its distance from its parent star, it is also possible that liquid water could exist on its surface.

"ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth," said astrophysicist Michel Mayor. "It's completely unheard of."

Source: | Comments (11)

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Comment icon #2 Posted by cathya 4 years ago
I wonder how long it would take humanity to trash this planet as badly as we've trashed Earth?
Comment icon #3 Posted by bison 4 years ago
It's possible that Proxima b is barren, having been affected by the large flares from its star, Proxima Centauri. If it has a strong magnetic field and dense atmosphere, it may be protected. With luck, it's the latter. If so, its inhabitants might have a lot to say about us coming there and trashing the place.!  It'll be a while before we can travel there. Time for us to grow up first !
Comment icon #4 Posted by tmcom 4 years ago
Considering that we will be seeing it up close in about 30 years time, (if the small army of tiny space probes, run by lazers on earth, is on track to laungh in 5 years) and each carried a small amount of highly radioactive material to rain down on whatever is there, about 30! I hate to say it, but this could be used to trash all plantery systems close to us, just in case something is alive on them, or we could mass sterilize all planets close to us that may be habitable. Come in peace, shoot to kill.
Comment icon #5 Posted by khol 4 years ago
Yeah I hear ya..not enough we pollute the planet we have to continue with the surrounding space... Then we moved on to surrounding planets next logical step extrasolar ones
Comment icon #6 Posted by bison 4 years ago
I read the linked article. Nowhere does it mention radioactive materials being carried aboard the proposed interstellar probes. Its logical to assume that the power to run the electronics aboard the probes would be extracted from the laser beam propelling it from Earth orbit. Would the presence of a tiny, wafer-like probe, and it's meter-wide light sail constitute trashing a planet? I trust not. If we found such an interstellar probe on, or near Earth, I expect we'd be pleased, even ecstatic, not resentful.
Comment icon #7 Posted by tmcom 4 years ago
No just an idea on my part, but push anough of these at 10% light speed, with a very fine highly radioactive material that would rain down on whatever poor creature looking up, and l would say that it is possible. Certainly glad Hitler didn't take over the world!
Comment icon #8 Posted by Jon the frog 4 years ago
Waiting for better tech to look on this planet. 4.2 light years away is pretty close in space. If we don't mess up our self, maybe we will be able to go there someday !
Comment icon #9 Posted by jbondo 4 years ago
Speculation aside, even at 17% bigger (and that number may be off), Prox b may be too large to support life. First it would have to have a carbon cycle. Then, that cycle would have to be stable enough to maintain a temp range suitable for life. Even if it had oceans, gravity plays a major role in said carbon cycle. Actually, the earth is an amazing place and with so many factors that have to meet specific (+/-) criteria, it's not such a crazy notion that advanced life forms may be very rare or nonexistent. Although, it stands to reason that there would be a multitude of worlds like ours, we ha... [More]
Comment icon #10 Posted by Hammerclaw 4 years ago
It's more like Venus than Earth, even tidally locked to it's star.
Comment icon #11 Posted by bison 4 years ago
Life has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable to various, even severe environments. I seems unlikely that a planet will need to be extraordinarily similar to Earth, in order for life to flourish there. Such life would very likely have the ability to adapt itself to local conditions over long periods of time, even where those conditions were somewhat unlike those on our planet.  

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