Follow the “Pale Red Dot” search for planets around Proxima Centauri

Is there a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, our closest night time star?

In 1915 Robert Innes discovered that Proxima Centauri was our closest star not far from bright Alpha Centauri. Last year I wrote about the centenary of this discovery, its Australian connection and how to see Proxima Centauri for yourself.

Now the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is searching for planets orbiting the star. The program began a few days ago on January 15, 2016 and will continue until April. ESO’s 3.6m telescope located at the La Silla observatory in Chile will use a high precision spectrograph named HARPS to search for tiny movements of the star that reveal the presence of any orbiting planet. There are complications (Proxima Centauri is a “flare star“) and the observations will be long and slow…but this is how science works.

To follow progress, learn more about Proxima Centauri and the techniques astronomers use to search for planets

The Galactic Centre above the ESO 3.6-metre telescope
The ESO 3.6-metre telescope and its HARPS instrument will be used to search for planets around Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESO/S. Brunier

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *