Proxima B

Artists Visualisation of Proxima B in Orbit of Proxima Centauri

It’s been an exciting week for the scientific community.

On the 24th of August, scientists announced the discovery of our nearest exoplanet, Proxima B.  The planet was detected by observers at the European Southern Observatory in Chile.

What’s so special about a new exoplanet?  Well, there are a couple of exciting things about this one: Proxima B is only 4.2 light years away, AND, it’s in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri.

Habitable zone?

Also known as the Goldilocks zone, the habitable zone is that space between a planet and its star where the temperature is ‘just right’, so right that there is the very real possibility stable liquid water could have formed on the surface of that world.

While both Proxima B and our very own Earth are within the habitable zones of their respective stars (ours is Sol, and Proxima B’s is Proxima Centauri), the similarities seem to end there.

Proxima B is 1.3 times larger than our planet, which means it is most likely tidally locked (one side always faces the sun), and due to it’s size is probably a very rocky world.

Could it sustain life?  Or already be sustaining life?  Does it have water?

No one can answer those questions just yet, but something Space 2049 reported on a few months ago might be able to in the not too distant future.

Breakthrough Starshot

Breakthrough Initiatives, with their Breakthrough Starshot project, may send some of their solar sail powered nanocraft to the Proxima system when they launch the amazing devices on a voyage of discovery to the Alpha Centauri system in about a decade.

While the Breakthrough Initiatives team continues to explore the possibility of diverting some of their nanocraft to Proxima, numerous observatories around the world will continue to give the Proxima star system the focus it deserves as we seek to learn more about this new world.

Will humans be able to visit Proxima B any time soon?  Using current technology… no.  It would take about 70,000 years for a manned spacecraft or even a conventional unmanned probe to make that journey.

If Breakthrough Starshot is able to launch its fleet of nanocraft as anticipated, the journey could be made in decades, but putting humans on Proxima B anytime soon is slightly beyond our reach.  For now.

If you’d like to read more about this discovery, visit space.com here.

If you’d like to read more about the Breakthrough Starshot project, visit Breakthrough Initiatives here.

Even with nanocraft zooming off to visit Proxima B in a decade or less, it will be some time before we know anything much about that world beyond what we can observe here on Earth.  Despite that, this news is remarkable, and to have discovered a world like Proxima B so close to our own makes you wonder… just what else will science reveal to us about our closest neighbours in the coming years?

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The Future Awaits

Project Breakthrough Banner

Yuri Milner is a Russian entrepreneur, physicist, internet investor, venture capitalist and science philanthropist.

He’s also one third of the incredible Breakthrough Initiatives – an organisation that aims to expand human understanding through three incredible projects: Breakthrough Listen, Breakthrough Starshot and Breakthrough Message.

Breakthrough Listen focuses on our ongoing search as a species, for extraterrestrial life.

Breakthrough Starshot focuses on exploring space beyond our star system, with a particular focus on Alpha Centauri.  By using a number of nanocraft, a ground-based light beamer, and light sails, it is believed these small unmanned craft could reach Alpha Centauri in approximately 20 years, sending exploration information on the journey, and on Alpha Centauri, back to Earth.

Breakthrough Message focuses on creating the right message to send out about Earth and humanity to possible extraterrestrial allies.  What words and sentiments do we want alien life to see, listen to and read about us?

Recently, Yuri announced both Breakthrough Starshot and Professor Stephen Hawking’s involvement in it, to the wider world, saying “We can do more than gaze at the stars, we can reach them.”

Yuri has donated 100 million dollars to the feasibility study needed to start the project, stating it will need a lot more money to execute.

Professor Hawking has been involved with Breakthrough Initiatives for a while now, having come on board to be a part of Breakthrough Listen.

The recent announcement was met with enthusiasm by the wider scientific community, many of whom were on hand for the announcement of Starshot and Professor Hawking’s involvement.

To read more about Breakthrough Initiatives, visit their website here.  The guiding lights behind Breakthrough Initiatives are Yuri Milner, Mark Zuckerberg (the creative genius behind facebook), and Professor Stephen Hawking.

To read more about the announcement of Breakthrough Starshot, click here to read the phys.org article.

It’s exciting to see the scientific community pushing us forward toward the future.  It’s past time we embraced our ability and, perhaps, our destiny, and reached for the stars.

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