Science

Could Proxima Centauri be the key to finding life beyond Earth?

4.2 lightyears away floats Earth’s nearest stellar neighbor: Proxima Centauri.

It’s smaller and cooler than our Sun, and, as a red dwarf, it’s the most common type of star in the Milky Way.

NASA

Proxima Centauri’s fame rose when scientists discovered an exoplanet orbiting the star in 2016.

ESO/M. Kornmesser

The exoplanet, named Proxima b, is 1.27 times the mass of Earth and orbits the star every 11 Earth days.

ESO/M. Kornmesser

Proxima b orbits its star within the “habitable zone,” where liquid water could theoretically form on the surface.

NASA

Then, in 2018, scientists announced a second planet, named Proxima c.

Proxima c is six to eight times more massive than Earth and takes 5.2 years to orbit its host star.

Are these two worlds habitable?

Because of its size and distance from its star, Proxima c is likely not habitable.

For Proxima b, the answer isn’t so simple.

Proxima b orbits in the star’s habitable zone.

NASA

But — its close proximity to its host star means that it’s vulnerable to dangerous solar eruptions, so scientists still aren’t sure about its habitability.

Still, Proxima Centauri inspires countless films, novels, TV shows, video games, and comics, from Star Trek, to Transformers, to Cixin Liu’s Hugo Award-winning novel, Three Body Problem.

Even if scientists don’t find life there in the near future, we will continue to dream.

Share