HAVE YOU EVER WISHED YOU COULD travel not only to other continents, but to other planets? Have you wished you could feel weightlessness, see the Milky Way from outer space, and spend years traveling to some distant, never-before-seen planet in a foreign solar system?
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that you are not going to be able to do that in your lifetime. The good news is that, as of today, there’s a possibility that your great-great-great-great-grandkids might.
Scientists announced today the discovery of Proxima b, a (possibly) small, rocky, earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our own, only 4.25 light years away. It is one of the only stars we could conceivably visit in the future.
We would need new spaceships — ships that could travel extremely fast through interstellar space. And we would need explorers who would be willing to spend huge chunks of their lives traveling back and forth to this planet. But the planet could conceivably host life, if we were ever to get there.
The discovery of exoplanets — planets that orbit a star other than our own — is nothing new. We’ve been finding them for over 20 years, and we’ve found upwards of 3,500 at this point. But relatively few of them are earth-like, and none of them are this close.
Scientists discovered the planet through the use of statistical analysis, which allows them to be reasonably certain it exists. They know that it’s at least 1.3 times larger than earth, and that it’s close enough to its sun to reach temperatures of -40° F. We know that most planets of this size and this proximity to their sun are rocky, like the planet earth. Other than that, we know pretty much nothing about it. But scientists will continue to try and learn about the planet, which, admittedly, is a really difficult thing to do from 4.25 light years away.
If they can detect an atmosphere on the planet, then it would mean that the planet could conceivably get warm enough to hold liquid water. Which could mean that is host to life. There’s a caveat, though: the star releases a lot of radiation, which would be fatal to creatures like ourselves. So the life would have to either be underground or have a tolerance for radiation that’s inconceivably in terrestrial biology.
But regardless, this is big news. If humans can keep exploring the reaches of interstellar outer space for a few more centuries, we could conceivably visit this not-so-distant neighbor. It’s too far off to add to your own bucket list, but not to the bucket list of your descendants.
h/t: Washington Post