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.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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