International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Proxima Centauri: the closest star to the Sun


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Proxima Centauri

Mains level : Not Much

Astronomers running the world’s largest initiative to look for alien life have recently picked up an “intriguing” radio wave emission from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun.

Proxima Centauri

  • Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light-years away from the Sun – considered a close distance in cosmic terms.
  • Its mass is about an eighth of the Sun’s, and it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye from Earth.
  • Proxima b, one of the two planets that revolve around the star, is the subject of significant curiosity.
  • Sized 1.2 times larger than Earth, and orbits its star every 11 days, Proxima b lies in Proxima Centauri’s “Goldilocks zone”.

Goldilocks zone is the area around a star where it is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface of surrounding planets. To give an example, the Earth is in the Sun’s Goldilocks zone.

The mystery of radio signals

  • Astronomers at the Breakthrough Listen project, started by the legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, regularly spot blasts of radio waves using two powerful telescopes.
  • They are Parkes Observatory in Australia or the Green Bank Observatory in the US.
  • All of their findings so far, though, have been attributed either to natural sources or interference caused by humans.
  • This raises the possibility that the emission could be an alien “techno-signature”, meaning something which provides evidence of alien technology.
  • There are also reasons to believe that the signal might not mean ‘aliens’.
  • Another possibility could be that the signal could have been caused by something behind Proxima Centauri or by a natural phenomenon whose existence we so far do not know of.

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