Earth’s twin? Earth-like planets could hide around nearest star to our solar system

Experts note that “this result suggests that Proxima Centauri may have a multiple planet system with a rich history of interactions that resulted in the formation of a dust belt. Further study may also provide information that might point to the locations of as yet unidentified additional planets…”

In what is considered another major astronomical discovery, scientists have spotted ‘dust’ around Proxima Centauri—the closest star system to our sun.

Located a ‘mere’ four light years from Earth, astronomers believe they have found an entirely new planetary system around Proxima Centauri.

Despite the fact that four light years is anything but close—ONE light years is exactly 9,460,730,472,580.8 kilometers—future generation spaceships could help human astronauts reach the aliens star system and explore in detail the planets hiding around the star.

Recent discoveries made by experts from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Grenada detected the dust layers using the ALMA Observatory in Chile.

Proxima Centauri is a weak red dwarf located in the constellation of the Centaur.

Orbiting around this star is Proxima b, a temperate exoplanet the size of Earth discovered in 2016 – by Guillem Anglada-Escudé, professor of Astrophysics at Queen Mary University in London – and which is the closest planet to our System Solar.

Image Credit: ESO

“The dust around Proxima is important because, following the discovery of the terrestrial planet Proxima b, it’s the first indication of the presence of an elaborate planetary system, and not just a single planet, around the star closest to our sun,” explained Dr. Guillem Anglada, lead author of the new study.

These dust belts are made up of the material left over from the planetary formation.

Primarily, they are ice and rock particles with sizes ranging from dust grains of less than one millimeter to bodies similar to asteroids several kilometers in diameter.

Some of this material seems to be distributed in a cosmic belt that extends to a few hundred million kilometers of Proxima Centauri and with a total mass of approximately one hundredth the mass of the Earth.

In addition, experts estimate that it has a temperature of approximately -230 degrees Celsius, the same as that of the Kuiper Belt, a similar structure located in the outer Solar System.

According to data obtained by ALMA, there are indications that point to the existence of another dust belt around Proxima Centauri, ten times farther and much colder than the first.

If confirmed, this belt would be in a very cold and distant environment of a star that is already colder and much weaker than the Sun.

Both this and the other dust belt are much farther from Próxima Centauri than its planet Proxima B, which orbits its star from a distance of around four million kilometers.

“This result suggests that Proxima Centauri may have a multiple planet system with a rich history of interactions that resulted in the formation of a dust belt. Further study may also provide information that might point to the locations of as yet unidentified additional planets,’ said Dr. Anglada.

Proxima Centauri is “especially interesting” according to scientists, since there are plans for future exploration missions with micro spaceships equipped with laser-driven sails (Starshot project), and understanding the composition and size of the dust belts surrounding the star is of great importance to plan these types of missions.

Dr. Pedro Amado co-author of the study, said: “These first results show that ALMA can detect dust structures orbiting around Proxima. Further observations will give us a more detailed picture of Proxima’s planetary system. In combination with the study of protoplanetary discs around young stars, many of the details of the processes that led to the formation of the Earth and the solar system about 4,600 million years ago will be unveiled.”

“What we are seeing now is just the appetizer compared to what is coming!” concluded Dr. Amado.

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