Posted on September 13th, 2016

Out of This World – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

NASA has been on the hunt for habitable planets like Earth for some time and their most recent find is pretty close to home. Just one star over, an Earth-sized planet spins blindly fast around its central star. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our Sun and is part of the triple star system, Alpha Centauri, over four light-years away. While the newly discovered planet called Proxima b orbits its star at a closer distance then Mercury does to our sun, taking only eleven days to fully to complete an orbit, it is still far enough away that water could potentially pool on its surface in a liquid form.

It takes some imagination to come with this stunning artist’s representation of Proxima b orbiting Proxima Centauri. (Credit:  ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Proxima b is 1.3 times the size of Earth and it’s possible that only one side of the planet faces the sun, leaving the other half always in shadows and darkness. Its star is a red-dwarf, smaller and cooler than our Sun. Even so the planet is probably exposed to a deadly amount of radiation and solar winds, making the possibility of an atmosphere unknown. While there are many unknowns when it comes to Proxima b and all exoplanets in general, the discovery of one so close to us is an exciting find. We can only see planets that orbit directly in our line of site of their host stars, so finding even one in our closest neighbor implies that there are many more exoplanets and some very nearby, which also increases the likelihood of some being habitable planets.

The data captured by the Kepler Mission suggests that all M-type stars like the red-dwarf probably have at least one habitable planet captured in its gravitational pull. The James Webb Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) are both set to start collecting data in 2018 and will contribute to the discovery and analysis of exoplanets. Amongst other things, the James Webb Telescope may be able to use spectroscopy to analyze Proxima b’s atmosphere in a way we cannot now. TESS will be looking for smaller exoplanets similar to Earth in our solar neighborhood. This exhilarating find could inspire further interest in planet discovery and classification especially as new space and ground based telescopes come online and new discoveries are made.

Happy 100th Birthday to the U.S. Park Service!

See the parks of Wyoming in three dimensions, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Craters of the Moon. (Credit: NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL-Caltech, MISR Team)

The U.S. Park Service celebrated its Centennial anniversary on August 25, 2016. NASA contributed to the affair by releasing four anaglyphs from the Multiangle Imaging SpectoRadiometer (MISR) onboard the Terra satellite. They display 33 of our national historical sties, monuments and parks in 3-D. MISR has nine cameras positioned at different angles to create stereoscopic images of the Earth’s surface. So put on your 3-D glasses for the full affect and click here to see all four images.

Funny or Die got into the Centennial celebration with their dating application spoof video. So if you need help being matched up with the best park for you click here.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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