Astronomers continue to probe the Alpha Centauri system for signs of habitable planets

Observations of Alpha Centauri have yet to yield planetary results.
By Lliane Hunter | Apr 12, 2018
Astronomers believe that Alpha Centauri, a three-star system that is the sun's closest neighbor, is the best place to look for Earth-like planets. However, planets have not been detected, writes Daniel Clery for Science. At a meeting of the European Astronomical Society (EAS), researchers expressed their disappointment. "It's a little frustrating for planet searchers," said Pierre Kervella of the Paris Observatory.

The system has two sun-like stars, Alpha Centauri A and B that orbit each other closely. Proxima Centauri has a more distant orbit, and in 2016 astronomers discovered an Earth-mass planet orbiting it. But, the planet's viable habitabilitydiminished once astronomers realized that Proxima Centauri blasts its planet withintense radiation and vicious stellar winds. Astronomers have shifted focus to Alpha Centauri A and B, predicting that the two are more likely to host Earth-like planets. In fact, opportunities for close observation are coming soon.

Kervella's team has said that in a decade, Alpha Centauri A will pass in front of a more distant star and act as a gravitational lensto the star behind it.How the light from the distant star flickers over time will provide valuable information about possible inner planets. Additionally, ESO's Extremely Large Telescopeshouldwork at that time. "We will see all the planets, big and small," says astronomer Hans-Ulrich Kufl of ESO.

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