astronomy.com
Is Proxima Centauri b the most promising exoplanet yet?
Our nearest neighbor could be nearly perfect for the search for life on other planets.

A pale red dot not far from our sun may be orbited by a pale blue dot much different than Earth.

In a shocking find, astronomers Wednesday announced their discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light-years away. This warm world, cataloged as Proxima b, sits smack in the middle of its habitable zone — the sweetest of sweet spots — where liquid surface water could exist.

But Proxima Centauri is not like our sun. It’s a cool, low-mass star known as a red dwarf. So the planet only qualifies as potentially habitable because it circles its sun in an orbit tighter than Mercury’s.

“The first hints of a possible planet were spotted back in 2013, but the detection was not convincing,” says Queen Mary University of London astronomer Guillem Anglada-Escudéf, who led the discovery team. “Since then we have worked hard to get further observations off the ground.”

Anglada-Escudéf’s group, called Pale Red Dot in homage to Carl Sagan, is an international team of several dozen astronomers who have collectively spent years searching for Earth’s nearest neighbor.

Incredibly, the planet’s ghostly signal was hidden in the data for decades. Pale Red Dot noticed a weak signal reoccurring every 11.2 days. They used this potential find to secure support from the European Southern Observatory, and then they set out on an unprecedented confirmation campaign.

For months earlier this year, they kept a near-constant vigil on Proxima Centauri using ESO’s 3.6-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. Their radial velocity technique, which detects tiny wobbles as the planet pulls on its star, provided the stunning confirmation.

An analysis of this new data, as well as a simultaneous analysis of decades-old observations, was revealed Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“You take the old data and the new data, and you combine everything together, and then the significance of the detection goes sky high — very, very significant,” says Anglada-Escudéf.

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Neptune

I someday wish to fly
the entire ship that my heart takes
all the way to Neptune.
If I could, I would
catch all that Purple gas
and filter it into a Mason jar;

I’d bring it home.
And together we would stare in awe
of the universe and
all its beauty:

You…
cannot compare to our most amorous planet and can make
any constellation
a consolation prize.

My heart shapes a sail
on a yacht sometimes,
but I swear

we could part at the sea
and meet at the sky
and talk about
all the beauty we’ve seen
in-between.

Of all the beauty I’ve seen in-between,
nothing could ever emulate
the fullness of your bloom
when my seedlings have a hard time growing roots.
A roof when I forget my umbrella.
A tandem bicycle when I forget how to walk.

Our chests pressed together.
Our hearts like bongos.
Jennifer, I’m sorry if my beat doesn’t sound
too pretty yet.

I’ve played a thousand instruments
between the sea and the sky but
I’ve just started to learn this new beat,

and this is me trying:
maybe not always knowing what direction to go
with my body but
knowing muscle memory comes with time
and, besides,

it’s worth it for you.

Saturn

Saturn’s rings are bright and its northern hemisphere defined by bright features as NASA’s Voyager 2 approaches Saturn, which it will encounter on Aug. 25, 1981. Three images, taken through ultraviolet, violet and green filters on July 12, 1981, were combined to make this photograph.

Several changes are apparent in Saturn’s atmosphere since Voyager 1’s November 1980 encounter, and the planet’s rings have brightened considerably due to the higher sun angle. Voyager 2 was 43 million kilometers (27 million miles) from Saturn when it took this photograph.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL