Dust suggests Proxima Centauri b isn’t alone

Dust belt at Proxima
An artist’s impression shows the newly discovered belts of dust around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. This sketch is not to scale — to make Proxima b clearly visible, it has been shown farther from the star and larger than it is in reality. (ESO Illustration / M. Kornmesser)

Astronomers created a stir last year when they reported that the closest star beyond our own solar system harbors a potentially habitable planet, but now fresh evidence hints that there could be even more worlds around Proxima Centauri.

The ALMA Observatory’s array of antennas in Chile has picked up the thermal glow from cold clouds of dust surrounding the red dwarf star, which lies just 4.2 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus. The clouds show up in a region that’s about one to four times as far away from the star as Earth is from our own sun.

There’s also evidence of a second dust belt farther out from the star. Such belts are thought to contain the remains of material left behind by the planet formation process, consisting of particles ranging in size from flecks of earthly dust to miles-wide asteroids.

Both belts are farther out than Proxima Centauri b, the planet whose detection was announced last year.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, 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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