FOR THE WEEK OF AUG. 29, 2016
Evidence of an Earth-like planet sounds like science fiction, but isn’t
Find other science, technology or engineering news and tell why it's interesting.
Summarize a story from far away, though not necessarily in outer space.
Can you spot something else that seems like the stuff of movies?
Movie-like phrases – "alien world," "red dwarf star," "exoplanet" -- dramatize astronomy news that broke last week. Headlines also are dramatic. "Potentially Habitable Planet Found Orbiting Star Closest to Sun" says National Geographic. On its front page, USA Today says: "There's an Earth-like planet right next door." The coverage flows from an international team's announcement of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest neighbor to our solar system. Their work is called the Pale Red Dot Project. Victoria Meadows of the University of Washington calls it "an absolutely amazing discovery."
Distant signs suggest a temperate climate, which means liquid water could exist at the surface. That raises the possibility of life at Proxima b, as the new find is named. We won’t know for sure any century soon. It’s 4.2 light-years, or 25 trillion miles, away from Earth. That's actually close in cosmic terms, though impossibly beyond our reach.
We don't even have a picture of Proxima b, which was detected indirectly via telescope sightings of its pale reddish light. Astronomers hope to see it when stronger telescopes are built a decade from now. There also are dreams of launching robotic space probes – perhaps as small as a phone – to zoom past the planet for a close-up look by 2040 or 2050. NASA hopes to send planet-finding telescopes into space orbit during the decades ahead, if Congress approves money for such costly missions.
Astronomer says: "We know there are terrestrial planets around many stars. . . . The excitement is because it is the nearest one." -- Guillem Anglada-Escudé of London, leader of the discovery team that made the discovery
NASA expert says: "It raises the public awareness there's a new world just next door. It's a paradigm shift in people's minds." -- Ruslan Belikov, Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
Project adviser says: "A habitable, rocky planet around Proxima would be the most natural location to where our civilization could aspire to move after the sun will die, five billion years from now." -- Avi Loeb, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Front Page Talking Points Archive