Why it’ll take years to see what Proxima b is like

Image: Proxima Centauri b
An artist’s conception shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b, with the red dwarf Proxima Centauri near the horizon. (Credi:t: M. Kornmesser / ESO)

University of Washington astronomer Rory Barnes says Proxima Centauri b is the biggest discovery in 20 years for planet hunters like himself, but it could take another 20 years to find out just how livable it is.

The alien planet orbits a red-dwarf star at a distance that puts it in a zone where liquid water could conceivably exist. The fact that such a world circles the sun’s nearest stellar neighbor, 4.2 light-years away, puts it on top of the list of potentially habitable planets beyond our solar system.

Barnes, however, emphasizes the word “potentially.” During a lecture at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, set for 7:30 p.m. tonight, the UW astronomer will delve into the opportunities and obstacles for life on Proxima Centauri b.

“We’re looking at a 15- to 20-year time frame before we can answer this question of whether it’s habitable,” Barnes told GeekWire in advance of the talk.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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