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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Closest exoplanet Proxima Centauri b discovered!

Please join the Davis Astronomy Club on Saturday, September 10 starting at 7:30pm at the Explorit Science Center (3141 5th Street, Davis). We will discuss the newly detected exoplanet Proxima Centauri b, and the Breakthrough Starshot interstellar project. 

Everyone is invited to the free meeting indoors, followed by a star party outdoors (weather permitting). 

Although bright planets in the Virgo constellation, Jupiter (mag -1.5) and Venus (mag -3.8), will set around sunset, planets in the Ophiuchus constellation, Saturn (mag +1.3) and Mars (mag -0.1), are ideally aligned in the sky for evening viewing as they both set after 11pm.


Closest exoplanet Proxima Centauri b discovered!

by Vinita Domier (vcdomier@yahoo.com)

On August 24, 2016, astronomers from the European Space Observatory announced that they have detected the closest planet to date outside our solar system. Extra-solar, or exoplanet, Proxima Centauri b, is similar in mass to Earth and orbits its parent star, Proxima Centauri in the Centaurus constellation, in the so-called habitable zone where water can exist in liquid form. 

At a mere distance of 4.24 light-years or 25 trillion miles, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, is the closest star to our sun, thus making Proxima Centauri b, the closest exoplanet discovered so far that can potentially support life.

Even though Proxima Centauri is our nearest stellar neighbor, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, that travelled for 9.5 years before reaching Pluto in 2015, would take 54,400 years to reach Proxima Centauri. 

A radical new idea proposed by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative on August 2016, is to send flotillas of thousands of wafer thin, one centimeter square, probes each weighing a few grams and equipped with a very thin reflective sail, to study the star system and the newly discovered exoplanet. 

These StarChips would be accelerated to nearly 20% the speed of light by super powerful Earth-based lasers bouncing off the sails, enabling the journey to be completed in a mere 20-25 years. Any data sent back by these microprobes would take more than four years to reach the Earth-based receivers as the star system is over four light years away.


We hope to see you at the Davis Astronomy Club gathering on Saturday, September 10 starting at 7:30pm. Everyone is invited to the free meeting indoors, followed by a star party outdoors (weather permitting). 

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For more information, please contact Vinita Domier at vcdomier@yahoo.com.

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