Proxima Rising: New planet found near Proxima Centauri

Hm, the protagonists of my book “Proxima Rising” must have overlooked this: Around the star Proxima Centauri, which is closest to Earth, there are apparently even three planets orbiting. Already known were the planet Proxima b, about the size of Earth, on which Marchenko, Adam and Eve land in the novel, and which orbits its star once every eleven days in the habitable zone, as well as the planet candidate Proxima c, a mini-Neptune of seven times Earth’s mass, which is in a five-year orbit around the star.

Proxima d, the newly discovered planet using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, orbits Proxima Centauri at a distance of about four million kilometers, less than one-tenth the distance of Mercury from the Sun. Its orbit is thus between the star and the habitable zone. This should make the planet too hot for possible life. Proxima d takes only five days to orbit the star.

With only a quarter of the mass of Earth, Proxima d is the lightest exoplanet ever found by the radial velocity method. It thus undercuts a planet recently discovered in the L 98-59 planetary system. The technique registers tiny variations in a star’s motion caused by the gravitational pull of a planet orbiting it. The effect of Proxima d’s gravity is so small that it moves the star Proxima Centauri back and forth at only about 40 centimeters per second (1.44 kilometers per hour).

“This success is extremely significant,” said Pedro Figueira, a scientist at the ESPRESSO instrument (“Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations”) at ESO in Chile, which made the discovery possible. “It shows that the radial velocity technique has the potential to discover light planets like our own, which are probably the most abundant in our galaxy and may harbor life as we know it.”

Close-up of Proxima d (artist’s rendering). Two other known planets orbiting Proxima Centauri are also shown in the image: Proxima b, a planet with about the same mass as Earth that orbits the star every 11 days and is in the habitable zone, and candidate Proxima c, which is in a longer five-year orbit around the star.(Image: ESO/L. Calçada).

2 Comments

  • I did read this elsewhere, and expect much more from the latest super telescope now residing at: As “NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said”:
    “Webb, welcome home! Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb’s safe arrival at L2 today. We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”
    The answer of course is that your ‘astronauts’ left Earth prior the appropriate technology being available, space is after all, HUGE.
    Your own ‘Hard-science fiction’ is my opinion, likely amongst the best I have read in a very long personal reading history, that encompasses, I believe, the very best, as: H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and more recently with his Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson. There are many more, and Brian Aldiss-Helliconia trilogy is amongst those. You are in good company!

    May I please pose a question/s (2) to you? I was going to ask them of Professor Brian Cox, but now chancing my arm here.
    Quite likely these are stupid question/s to any real physicist, who may indeed notice, and be able to see that my questions, are badly thought out, and not really questions, because my fundamental reasoning is wrong??
    The background to the questions, is: We are able to ‘see’; back in time through the Hubble telescope, and now with the Webb super sophisticated telescope, to the beginning of our universe, actually, micro-seconds after the ‘Big Bang’. Essentially we are looking through Hubble, back, at light travelling towards us from that instant, and subsequent events.

    My questions are: How is it ‘we’ are able to look-back? How has Matter arrived here before Light?

    My reasoning is: If ‘Light’ is the fastest thing in the known universe? How is it then that ‘we’, and our World, which are ‘matter’, how is it that ‘matter’ is here before ‘light’, which we must be, for us to be able to, ‘look back’, and see light from the beginning, 13.8 billion years ago, coming toward us?
    How has Matter arrived here before Light?
    Shouldn’t we be looking at Light travelling away from us, ‘at the speed of Light’?

    If you should care to answer, I would be delighted

    • Hi, thanks for reading – and liking – my books! There are no stupid questions, first of all 🙂 Actually, your reasoning is not wrong but it doesn’t consider the whole picture. Before the big bang, there was nothing. Then, all of a sudden, the whole universe, with all its matter, came into existence. Light, btw, is matter too (Einstein found that out when he found E=mc^2). The universe looked very different from now. All the forces (we know four, but there may be more) were one. We don’t know the laws of physics yet that describe this (albeit very short) moment. Then, the universe expanded very quickly (first) and slower (later). The forces separated. The electromagnetic force with their share of matter (called “light” if it is in the visible spectrum) came into existence as well as the other forces. The universe expanded even more. It was still a hot soup so thick that light did not have space to propagate. Light particles (photons) were captured and released by electrons quickly. The universe was dark at that time. Again a bit later, 380.000 years after the big bang, the mean distance between particles got so large that light finally had enough space to propagate. The universe became clear, first in some bubbles, than in the whole space. The light got freed. Light from this time is still filling the cosmos as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). It’s the same light waves / particles that we can see today in the CMB. It’s not possible to look deeper into the past. Now, the universe was and is still expanding. Many stars ands whole galaxies are many billions of light years away because of this expansion. The light from them needs the same number of years to reach us. If a source is 13 billion light years ago and we receive its light today, it must have left the source 13 billion years ago, i.e. when the universe was only 800 million years old. That’s how we can look into the past. We cannot see our own past but only the past of objects that are far away from us. And we can never look back to the times when the universe was still dark. Also, we can never see the present of those far away objects. Probably they don’t even exist anymore, only their light because the way to us took so much time.

      Does that answer your question?

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BrandonQMorris
  • BrandonQMorris
  • Brandon Q. Morris is a physicist and space specialist. He has long been concerned with space issues, both professionally and privately and while he wanted to become an astronaut, he had to stay on Earth for a variety of reasons. He is particularly fascinated by the “what if” and through his books he aims to share compelling hard science fiction stories that could actually happen, and someday may happen. Morris is the author of several best-selling science fiction novels, including The Enceladus Series.

    Brandon is a proud member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and of the Mars Society.