Saturday, September 3, 2016

Is the sensational discovery of Proxima b turning out to be a case of sour grapes?

A week back on 24th August 2016; after having found ample evidence, astronomers and scientists have announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet called Proxima b orbiting the Star called Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri is the nearest Star to our Sun. Its diameter is about 1/7 of our Sun. And the planet Proxima b is about 1.3 times the size of Earth and it is 4.22 light-years from us. In astronomical terms 4.22 light years is a short distance. Proxima b appears to be rocky and might be warm enough to host liquid water, and thus be habitable. This sensational news was very widely covered by print and electronic media. The possibility of water and life on a planet so close to us was quite thrilling and reminded me of a popular science fiction novel 'A for Andromeda'  which is based on extraterrestrial intelligence. My previous blog post was on this novel and I mentioned in it that I would be writing on the discovery of Proxima b after clear details are available.
It is no doubt a great discovery, opening up avenues for more research, inventions and discoveries. The initial news was very thrilling. But as I got to know more details I am disappointed. The most important point being 4.22 light-years means 40 trillion kms. or 25 trillion miles. It is said that the fastest rocket made so far travels at a speed of 50,000 km/hour and that would take 81,000 years to reach this new discovery! That is 162,000 years for a to and fro journey! So astronomically calling it a short distance is OK (to view and study) but certainly impossible to reach as any new greater speeds of travel may not be able to reduce 81,000 years of travel to something practical.
And now coming to other details and life on Proxima b, those facts too are not very encouraging. Proxima b is 95 percent closer to its Sun – Proxima Centauri than we are to our Sun. This planet doesn’t burn up and is expected to be warm because Proxima Centauri is a much smaller Sun, but there is always the risk of the Sun’s flares and powerful X-ray and ultraviolet radiation affecting the planet. Proxima b orbits its Sun every 11.2 days and it is said to be ‘tidally locked’ to its Sun, meaning that only one side receives sunlight and the other side would remain always dark and cold.

Though I wish there is some form of very superior, civilized, loving and peaceful life form existing there, this hope is fading as I read more about this discovery. 

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