New discoveries: The potential of the Alpha Centauri system to host life-bearing worlds has always intrigued scientists, but no known exoplanets have ever been established there – in part because the proximity meant it was too bright for astronomers to restrict themselves to. really to planetary objects in the region. But in a paper published in Nature Communications On Wednesday, an international team of astronomers using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory in Chile found a bright thermal imaging signal coming from the living area of Alpha Centauri A.
Tell me more: The signal was derived from Near Earths in the Alpha Center Region (NEAR), a $ 3 million project supported by ESO and Breakthrough Watch. The latter is an initiative backed by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to search for rocky Earth-sized planets around Alpha Centauri and other star systems within 20 light years of us.
NEAR was able to advance upgrades to the VLT which included a thermal chronograph, which can block starlight and search for thermal signatures from planetary objects as they reflect light from their star. He found the signal around Alpha Centauri A after analyzing 100 hours of data.
Main caveats: The planet in question has not even been named yet and its existence has not been verified. The new signal would suggest it’s the size of Neptune. This means that we are not talking about an Earth-like world, but a hot gaseous planet five to seven times the size of Earth. If this is the home of life, it would probably be microbial life hanging out in the clouds. And the signal could very well be caused by a number of other explanations, like hot cosmic dust, a more distant object in the background, or stray photons.
Confirming the existence of the planet shouldn’t be too difficult – astronomers simply need to re-observe the object and see if its new position matches an orbit. It is not yet known when a follow-up investigation will take place.