Episode for July 27th, 2023 Download

Did you know that the closest star to us has a planet around it that may be habitable? In 2016 astronomers discovered a planet around the red-dwarf star Proxima Centauri, which lies a short hop away astronomically speaking at 4 light years from Earth. This planet, called Proxima Centauri b, is the closest planet to us from outside the solar system.

Proxima Centauri b is a very strange planet, it is only a tiny bit larger than Earth but it orbits its star in only 11.2 days - that is its year! It also orbits very close to the star, closer than Mercury orbits the Sun.

Still, even though it is so close to Proxima Centauri, that star is quite cool, which means the planet can orbit very closely and not be too hot. In fact, the temperatures on Proxima b are such that any water that may be there would be liquid. Which is a good thing if life were to evolve or if humans were to travel there.

Red dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri are tiny compared to the Sun. They are also the most common stars in the universe and live for trillions of years. The long life of red dwarf stars provides a lot of time for life to form on any planets that may orbit them. Because of this, some astronomers believe that red dwarf stars are the most likely place to find evidence of life elsewhere in the universe.

Now, even though Proxima Centauri is our closest star, it is still four light years away. It would take five million years to get there at typical airline speeds, and our current rocket technology is nowhere near ready to take us there, so for now, travel to Proxima Centauri b remains a dream.