In August, scientists from the European Southern Observatory announced the discovery of a planet orbiting our Sun’s closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri. Although this planet still holds many mysteries, the limited information that we’ve gathered about Proxima b suggests a world that could share much in common with our own. At a distance of “only” 4.2 light years (25 trillion miles), many have suggested that with this discovery we now have a superb target for future extrasolar robotic exploration.
Proxima b is just one of the latest entries in an ever expanding list of strange new worlds. Just a few decades ago, exoplanets (planets outside of our Solar System) were merely subjects of speculation. Now our list of confirmed exoplanets tallies over 3,000 strong, with more discoveries rolling in all the time.
Many of these worlds are under conditions wildly unlike anything we’ve seen in our Sun’s neighborhood. Some orbit blisteringly close to their parent star, or have long eccentric looping orbits that take thousands of years to circuit. Some orbit super-dense pulsars that blast out X-rays, while others are rogue wanderers that orbit no star at all.
In our October 13 and 15 Night Vision presentations, we’ll explore what we know (and don’t yet know) about exoplanets like Proxima b, and the ingenious techniques that astronomers have developed to detect them.
Night Vision: Mars is presented by Brandon Crowley on Thursday, October 13th, and Saturday, October 15th, in the Hansen Dome Theater at 6:45pm. Tickets available online or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk. Free for members and $2 for everyone else.