Wednesday, February 10, 2021

An Unknown Planet?

The binary stars Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, and in the background the faint red dwarf Alpha Centauri C, also known as Proxima Centauri.

Astronomers have glimpsed what seems to be an unknown planet. In Nature Communications, the research team describes how infrared observations for 100 hours in May and June 2019 revealed a bright dot they have been unable to explain. If confirmed as a planet, the sighting would be the first to directly image an exoplanet around a nearby star.

Scientists spotted the bright dot near Alpha Centauri A, the closest star system to the Earth. It appears to be one of a pair of stars that swing around each other so tightly they appear to be a single star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. The binary star system is 4.37 light years away, a relatively short distance given the expanse of the cosmos. 

The researchers are referring to it as a “planet candidate” until further observations can verify the sighting.

The astronomers used the Very Large Telescope, or VLT, operated by the European Southern Observatory located in Chile’s Atacama Desert. A new coronagraph on the instrument blocks light from Alpha Centauri, making it easier to spot orbiting worlds.

Pete Klupar, the chief engineer of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said,“We’re trying to see a flashlight right next to a lighthouse.”

Read more here.

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