Anyone looking up at the starry night sky in the Netherlands or Belgium would not see Alpha Centauri. This star system is almost invisible to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, yet this star cluster is our closest neighbour. To get to Alpha Centauri, you only have to travel four light-years.
These are the stars of Alpha Centauri
Alpha Centauri is a star system made up of three stars kept together by gravity: Alpha Centauri A, B, and C. Although the last star, the outer star of the cluster, is known as Proxima Centauri.
What’s up with that? Together, Alpha Centauri A and B form a double star and orbit around a common center of mass. For such a tour, the stars need only 22 Earth days. Researchers from Cornell University did the calculations in 2016 Alpha Centauri C is much farther away and takes 550,000 years to orbit the other two stars in the system.
Is life possible on the exoplanets of Alpha Centauri?
The three stars are not the only thing we find on a hypothetical space mission to Alpha Centauri. So far, scientists have discovered three exoplanets orbiting the star Proxima Centauri. The discovery of Proxima Centauri b in 2016 in particular caused a stir. After all, this planet is located in the habitable zone of its star, and is therefore an interesting candidate in the search for life.
However, it is unlikely that we will ever find females and males on the planet Proxima Centauri b: in 2019, scientists from the University of Colorado discovered a large solar flare on the star Proxima Centauri. This produces so much ultraviolet radiation that life as we know it on Earth would have no chance. “If there was life on one of the planets near Proxima Centauri, it would look very different from life on Earth. Humans would not live on such a planet. said astrophysicist Meredith MacGregor.
The floor is lava on Alpha Centauri Bb
Therefore, the chance of life on planets surrounding Proxima Centauri is slim. But there are more exoplanets floating around Alpha Centauri. Are the living conditions there more suitable? We can at least draw a line through the planet Alpha Centauri Bb, which was discovered in 2012. According to NASA It is so hot on this planet that its entire surface is made of lava.
Conditions may be less extreme on planet candidate Alpha Centauri Bc, which orbits the same star and is about the same size as Earth. But then it still needs to be confirmed that this planet actually exists.
This is how long a one-way ticket to Earth – Alpha Centauri takes
High temperatures, massive solar flares and a lava surface may not be the biggest obstacles in the search for life on Alpha Centauri. First we have to get close to this star system again, which is not an easy task.
According to NASA Voyager 1, the first space probe to leave our solar system, will take forty thousand years to cross the boundaries of our solar system to Alpha Centauri. But who knows, maybe in thirty thousand years, science will be completely different: the stars and planets of Alpha Centauri are slowly moving towards us. In thirty thousand years, the distance between Earth and our neighbors in Alpha Centauri will be the smallest. So just be patient.
Willick Van Doorn studied journalism, traveled the world for a while, and eventually ended up in the editorial offices of Quest, National Geographic, and Runner’s World across the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. She is interested in the world, prefers to travel every month and always takes her running shoes with her.
“Travel enthusiast. Alcohol lover. Friendly entrepreneur. Coffeeaholic. Award-winning writer.”