New liveable planet may be within reach

RICK: Scientists at NASA think they have found a whole new world in what they call the “Goldilocks zone” – a zone named after the old fable, to indicate that the conditions are juuuuuust right to support life. The planet that is tantalizingly similar to Earth has been named Proxima B. It orbits a close star called Proxima Centauri – much like Earth orbits the sun. Michael Shara the curator in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History shares some details on the newfound planet.

 

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Shara: “It’s just a planet, not exactly like earth, but enough Earth-like that we should be excited about it. That is literally right next door to us in space.”

Reporter: “Let me ask you about what we actually know. Are we seeing trees out there? Are we seeing grass? It would seem the information is very partial, related primarily to its size and temperature.”

Shara: “The only thing we have a reasonably good handle on is its distance from Proxima and its mass. We know that its more massive than the Earth, at least 1.3 times as massive as the Earth, maybe even twice as massive as the Earth. That’s okay. It can still be a reasonably Earth-like planet. It orbits Proxima once every 11 days, so it’s much closer in even than Mercury. The reason that it isn’t completely roasted and toasted is because Proxima is much fainted than the Sun is. It’s more than a thousand times less luminous than our sun and so the combination of close distance but much fainter means the planet receives more or less the same amount of radiation that we do.”

Reporter: “Is there any evidence that life is there?”

Shara: “None whatsoever. We just don’t know that. The only thing we do know is that given the distance that it is from Proxima and the brightness or luminosity of Proxima, that water could exist on its surface, if the planet had water in the first place. We don’t know that either, but it’s certainly going to be something that astronomers look at very hard with the James Web telescope that will be launched in a few years and with other increasingly sophisticated instruments. SO we’re going to get an image of it, we’re going to get a spectrum of it, we’re going to begin to characterize it and be able to characterize it in five, ten or fifteen years.”

RICK: But don’t get too excited: the planet is 4.25 Light Years from Earth. A light year is a unit of astronomical distance that equals the distance that light travels in one year, which is roughly 6 trillion miles. With current technology it would take 70 thousand years for us to travel the 4.25 Light Years to Proxima B.

Instructional Links

Website Article & Video: Nine Planets, A Real Goldilocks Planet 

http://nineplanets.org/news/a-real-goldilocks-planet/

Video: PBS Learning Media, Fragile Planet 

http://ideastream.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/fragile-planet/in-the-classroom/

Website Article: Starchild, What is a Light-Year and How Is It Used? 

http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/questions/question19.html

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