But will it succeed? Coustenis added that any discovery of life in the universe — even if it's evidence of past life — would be "mind-blowing. And to answer that question is not easy. Thank you for signing up to Live Science. Original article on Space.com. The Breakthrough Starshot initiative has already proposed sending a tiny nanocraft to Proxima Centauri at 20 percent of the speed of light. Astronomers have discovered an Earth-like planet, named Proxima b, orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system, as seen in this artist’s impression. Save up to 55% on gift subscriptions to the world's leading science and tech magazines. You can read more of Chiao's Expert Voices Op-Eds and film reviews on his Space.com landing page. But there are big differences, too. It is a red dwarf, a small, cool star whose lifetime is much longer than the sun's. Leroy Chiao served as a NASA astronaut from 1990-2005. "Hypothetically, if I could get there, I would drill, which is what we are doing currently on Mars, and it's also what we are planning to do with space missions currently being developed for icy moons," Coustenis said. There is still hope for me. Proxima Centauri b, or Alpha Centauri Cb, orbits the star at a distance of roughly 0.05 AU (7.5 million km) with an orbital period of approximately 11.2 Earth days. In August 2016, astronomers announced that a potentially Earth-like planet orbits Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun. "The biggest question now, and the one my team has been trying to solve, is does it transit?" An astrophysicist explains the trailblazing discoveries. He's referring to the method of observing an exoplanet as it passes in front of, or "transits," its star and then analyzing the way the transiting planet affects the spectrum of the starlight to determine what elements are present in its atmosphere, if it has one. Moreover, the equilibrium temperature of Proxima b is estimated to be within the range where water could exist as liquid on its surface; thus, placing it within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri. We delete comments that violate our policy, which we encourage you to read. Chiao has performed six spacewalks, in both U.S. and Russian spacesuits, and has logged nearly 230 days in space. Measurements indicate that Proxima b is a rocky planet, just slightly larger than Earth, orbiting the star at the right distance to be able to support liquid water on its surface, and thus perhaps life. Now, scientists have found such a planet orbiting a star down our own cosmic "block" — a possible rocky planet around Proxima Centauri, our closest star. I believe that life is always starting in some parts of the universe at the same time that it is dying out in others. Could there be life on Proxima b? Please refresh the page and try again. My hope is that we will find answers in my lifetime, by continuing to look even closer than "down the block." But if signs of life are discovered in the Proxima system, what could we do about it? On that flight, he served as the commander of Expedition 10, a 6.5-month mission. © There was a problem. A single pixel-size image of the planet from an Earth-based or space telescope would be enough to glean valuable insights about the planet, he added, such as if it has an atmosphere or oceans, and if the atmosphere includes gases that could be the result of living metabolisms in an alien biosphere. Discuss: Could life exist on Proxima b, the closest Earth-like planet in the universe? You will receive a verification email shortly. That craft still needs to be developed, but it provides hope we could at least lay digital eyes on Proxima b within our lifetimes. Kipping says Anglada-Escudé's team shared their findings on Proxima b a few weeks ago to aid in his quest to find a way to observe the planet in transit. In this century, it is much more likely that we could find evidence of at least past, or even current, microbial life under the surface of Mars. The discovery of Proxima b raises renewed interest in this question. During his 15-year career, he flew four missions into space, three times on space shuttles and once as the co-pilot of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. Receive mail from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsors? This artist's impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. If Proxima b is confirmed in orbit around our nearest star, conditions on the planet are certain to be very different from conditions here on Earth, said planetary scientist Athena Coustenis, director of research for the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France at the Meudon Paris Observatory, and chair of the European Science Foundation's space exploration committee. Thank you for signing up to Space. "What more can we ask for than a potentially habitable world around our closest neighbor, to get everyone inspired to try to get there?". If Proxima b is confirmed in orbit around our nearest star, conditions on the planet are certain to be very different from conditions here on Earth, said planetary scientist Athena Coustenis, director of research for the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France at the Meudon Paris Observatory, and chair of the European Science Foundation's space exploration committee. To me, this is a natural progression, just like individual lives on our planet. "Last night when the sun set in Boston, the temperature did not fall to absolute zero. "Is there anybody there? NY 10036. Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, Despite all the challenges to life making it on Proxima b and the obstacles to even being able to study the possibility of life there, researchers are already adjusting their work plans based on today's announcement. "And the question is: Can it maintain an atmosphere? Visit our corporate site. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. We don't know about each other, simply because the distances are so vast. "At the moment, it's just a question, and we don't have the answer to it — when and if we get an answer to it, I think that will be quite profound.". Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. explained Columbia University's David Kipping. This likely means that Proxima b is tidally locked, with one side always facing the star, Coustenis said. NY 10036. Harvard astronomy professor David Charbonneau concurs. You will receive a verification email shortly. Another possibility could be to use solar sails, such as the tiny laser-powered LightSail spacecraft proposed earlier this year by the Breakthrough Starshot project. Astronomers don't yet have enough information to know whether or not the newfound world Proxima b is capable of supporting life as we know it. The planet's history is actually more important. New observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope launching in the coming years will surely help this effort. Today the world knows something it didn't know yesterday: the nearest star to our solar system is orbited by a rocky planet in the habitable zone.
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