Proxima b is an earth like planet that has been discovered orbiting our nearest star. The planet has a mass equivalent to 1.17 earths, it is in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri and completes it’s orbit in 11.2 days. This breakthrough has been possible thanks to velocity measurements of unprecedented precision using ESPRESSO, the spectrograph that is Swiss-manufactured and is installed on the Very Large Telescope in Chile.
The ESPRESSO spectrograph has played radial velocity measurements on the star Proxima Centauri, which is just 4.2 light-years from sunlight, with an accuracy of 30 centimetres a second (cm/s) or about three times more exact than that obtained with HARPS, exactly the identical sort of tool but from the previous generation.
“We’re already very happy with the operation of HARPS, which was responsible for detecting tens of thousands of exoplanets within the last 17 years”, begins Francesco Pepe, a professor at the Astronomy Department in UNIGE’s Faculty of Science and the guy responsible for ESPRESSO. “We are very happy that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements, and it is gratifying and just reward for its teamwork lasting nearly a decade.”
Alejandro Suarez Mascareño claimed “Confirming the existence of Proxima b was a significant endeavor, and it’s among the most interesting planets known in the solar community.”
The measurements performed by ESPRESSO have clarified that the minimum mass of Proxima b is 1.17 earth masses (the previous estimate was 1.3) and it orbits around its star in only 11.2 days.
Though Proxima b is roughly 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, it receives similar energy, so that its surface temperature could mean that water (if there’s any) is in liquid form in regions and might, consequently, harbour life.
That being said, although Proxima b is an ideal candidate for biomarker research, there’s still a long way to go before we could suggest that life has been able to grow on its surface. In reality, the Proxima celebrity is an energetic red dwarf which bombards its world with X rays, getting about 400 times more than the Earth.
“Is there an atmosphere that shields the world from such fatal rays?” Asks Christophe Lovis, a researcher at UNIGE’s Astronomy Department and accountable for ESPRESSO’s cognitive performance and information processing. “And if this air exists, does it include the chemical elements that promote the progression of life (oxygen, for example)? We are going to tackle these questions, especially with the assistance of future tools such as the RISTRETTO spectrometer, which we’re likely to construct especially to detect the light emitted by Proxima b, and HIRES, which can be set up on the upcoming ELT 39 m telescope the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is currently building in Chile.”