Thursday, January 21, 2016

Earth-Like Planets in a Neighboring Star System?

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Earth-Like Planets in a Neighboring Star System?
Composite image showing a diagram of Proxima Centauri, the Milky Way and ESO’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile.

By Elizabeth Howell

      Are there Earth-like planets in a neighboring star system? A new campaign called “Pale Red Dot” aims to show the public in real-time how to push astronomy to its limits to possibly find out.

The project will try to find a relatively tiny world around a star. Proxima Centauri is just four light-years away — a “pale red dot” dwarf star — and will be scrutinized in detail for three months, using a well-known planet-searching instrument in Chile.

You can follow along as HARPS, which is a part of the 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory, stares at the star until April. There’s a blog as well as a Twitter hashtag (#PaleRedDot). The astronomers bill it as a way to show how science is done, but caution they must make sure not to release any data too early.

“Obviously a major risk for the science is that we do not want to release results from our observations before they have been thoroughly checked and peer reviewed,” said Guillem Anglada, the project coordinator of Pale Red Dot, in an e-mail to Discovery News.

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