The Solar System Closest to Us May Be Hiding Alien Life on Earth-Like Planets
Forget about looking for planets in galaxies far, far away—some say it's the Alpha Centauri star system we should keep investigating.
The star system closest to our own solar system has long been a hotbed of research activity.
In August of 2016 scientists discovered Proxima b, a rocky planet that orbits the small red dwarf Proxima Centauri. With a much tighter orbit than Earth's, it exists within a range that allows liquid water to exist on its surface.
Project Blue, a small space telescope seeks funds on Kickstarter with the sole purpose of discovering more water-sustaining planets by exploring Alpha Centauri.
Now, a new paper published yesterday in The Astronomical Journal says that our instruments are finally strong enough to detect these potential new planets. Using data from instruments designed to search for exoplanets, like Proxima b, the scientists flipped their search on its head and focused on what those instruments could, or couldn't see.
By ruling out planets of a certain size in each star's habitable zone, they can tell what planets aren't there and what still remains undiscovered. With its ability to sustain liquid water, Proxima b is in the habitable zone.
Just last month, a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters stated that Proxima Centauri, the planet in this star system closest to our sun, might have a whole lot more orbiting it than just Proxima b.
"It's the first indication of the presence of an elaborate planetary system, and not just a single planet, around the star closest to our sun," lead author Guillem Anglada said in a press release. "This result suggests that Proxima Centauri may have a multiple planet system with a rich history of interactions that resulted in the formation of a dust belt."
Though NASA doesn't currently have any plans to visit the Proxima Centauri neighborhood, thankfully we have Project Blue on the search.
Another research program founded by venture capitalist Yuri Milner and supported by Stephen Hawking, Breakthrough Starshot is also determined to reach our neighboring star system by less conventional means—in lieu of a telescope, they envision a sort of galactic sailboat.