Hubble Proxima Centauri

This plot shows the projected motion of the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri (green line) over the next decade, as plotted from Hubble Space Telescope observations. Because of parallax due to Earth’s motion around the sun, the path appears scalloped. Because Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our sun (distance, 4.2 light-years), its angular motion across the sky is relatively fast compared to much more distant background stars. This means that in 2014 and 2016 Proxima Centauri will pass in front of two background stars that are along its path. The background image shows a wider view of the region of sky in the southern constellation Centaurus that Proxima is traversing. Credit:NASA, ESA, K. Sahu and J. Anderson (STScI), H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University), M. Dominik (University of St. Andrews), and Digitized Sky Survey (STScI/AURA/UKSTU/AAO)

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope will have two opportunities in the next few years to hunt for Earth-sized planets around the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.

The opportunities will occur in October 2014 and February 2016 when Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our sun, passes in front of two other stars. Astronomers plotted Proxima Centauri’s precise path in the heavens and predicted the two close encounters using data from Hubble.

“Proxima Centauri’s trajectory offers a most interesting opportunity because of its extremely close passage to the two stars,” said Kailash Sahu, an astronomer with the Space Science Telescope Institute in Baltimore, Md. Sahu leads a team of scientists whose work he presented Monday at the 222nd meeting of American Astronomical Society in Indianapolis.

Red dwarfs are the most common class of stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Any such star ever born is still shining today. There are about 10 red dwarfs for every star like our sun. Red dwarfs are less massive than other stars. Because lower-mass stars tend to have smaller planets, red dwarfs are ideal places to go hunting for Earth-sized planets.

via NASA – Rare Stellar Alignment Offers Opportunity To Hunt For Planets.