Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Science Fiction or Science Non-Fiction – Depends when you ask!

Alpha Centauri has sparked a lot of science fiction stories and a few once believed some rather outlandish predictions that now have come true in the strangest ways. When I say (or write) Alpha Centauri, your first thought is probably of the star that is 4.3 light years, perhaps your next thought is do I mean Alpha Centauri A or B as there are two stars that orbit each other every 80 years, and maybe your third thought might be, wait a minute isn’t there a Proxima Centauri (a red dwarf) star as well? And right you would be, but did you know that it also houses a planet and possibly more? Right now the one we know about is called Alpha Centauri Bb – catchy no?

The planet orbits very close to its star. Because of that, even though earth like in many ways from its mass to the star it orbits, where it differs is a game changer. This planet is likely to have a lava consistency and it has a year that lasts all of 3.2 days.

The Swiss win out in the discovery of the planet, or rather the proving that it is actually there. They studied it for no less than four years to make sure that the planet does in fact exist. They analyzed the data received from the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) instrument in Chile. HARPS is a 3.6 meter telescope that is more able to accurately detect exo-planets not only like Saturn but those that are less massive. Planets like Uranus and smaller masses can be detected through both the much more sensitive instrument HARP and the method it uses of checking for stellar wobbles. The method is far from new but with the lens being constantly adjusted we are better able to search for smaller earth-like planets.

Greg Lauglin back in 2008 then an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)created a model in which he theorized that there were other ‘earths’ that existed around Alpha Centauri and that they would be discovered in his lifetime. Now he was a part of the Swiss team that did just that.

So as time goes on between the Alpha Centauri star system and the many planets Keppler has found, it seems Science Fiction will be leading the way moving out to Deep Space.

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