Even though Proxima Centauri is right next door, in the celestial sense, it’s still difficult to find any planets orbiting the star. That’s because researchers often find exoplanets by looking for a tiny wobble in a star’s light, something that can be measured if the star can be clearly seen. But as a small red dwarf with faint light, Proxima Centauri is a difficult candidate for a planet hunt, even if it is relatively closeAs Megan Gannon at Space.com reports, it took a consortium of 30 researchers systematically observing the star in a project called the “Pale Red Dot” campaign to eventually detect Proxima b orbiting the star.
The latest ALMA data is adding to the hard-won picture emerging of the Proxima Centauri system, and there is some preliminary data to suggest the presence of at least one planet hiding in the ring of dust and debris, co-author Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London tells Mandelbaum. But more work is necessary for confirmation of this or any other planets.
“This time we could only get the first snapshot,” he says. “We want to get more ALMA time to get higher resolution images of these dust rings and see what they really are.”
While it’s still too early to tell if they will find any more planets around the red dwarf, other researchers are preparing to explore whatever is there. Proxima Centauri is part of a trio of stars, which also includes Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centrauri B, that are the focus of the project Breakthrough Starshot. Sponsored by Russian billionaire physicist Yuri Milner, the project is focused on the development of a feasible but technically challenging plan to send a swarm of nano spacecraft to the system to explore, including a fly-by of Proxima b. This newest discovery hints that they might have something to write home about.