A New Planetary Neighbor
Researchers spotted evidence for an exoplanet in the Proxima Centauri system.
Vocabulary: Goldilocks Zone, habitable zone, star, exoplanet, atmosphere
This week, researchers reported in the journal Nature that they had spotted evidence for an exoplanet in the Proxima Centauri system, a mere 4.2 light-years from Earth. This newly found neighbor appears to be 1.3 times the mass of our globe, and it could have a rocky surface. It also appears to be situated in the “habitable zone” of its star — that is, an area that would allow it to potentially have liquid water. However, little is known about the exoplanet, which may not even have an atmosphere. Rachel Feltman of The Washington Post describes this new celestial body.
Questions for Students
- What do you think are the minimum requirements for a planet to sustain life? Remember that bacteria and other single-celled organisms count.
- Think about the story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Why do you think that the term “Goldilocks Zone” is used to describe an area where potentially habitable planets exist?
- Explain why Rachel Feltman doesn’t want us to classify this new planet as “sort of like Earth.”
- Using this article about our new planetary neighbor, pull key details on this discovery, then conduct a series of investigations that explore the concept of a “habitable zone”. Here is another resource for the Goldilocks Zone.
- Calculate the distance between Earth and the sun, then using the article from The Washington Post, calculate the distance between Proxima Centauri and the newly discovered Proxima b. Have students compare the two. Create a scaled drawing or model depicting how far Proxima b is from Earth. Demonstrate mastery of scale by creating drawings, models, etc. that are representative of different distances in our solar system. Try making a scale of the solar system using beads or toilet paper, or come up with original examples.
[Want more exoplanets? Check out this interview on NASA’s Kepler mission and the 1,2084 new exoplanets it revealed.]