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Home » 2016 » November » 16 » Scientists Say: Proxima b The star closest to our sun isn’t alone
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Scientists Say: Proxima b The star closest to our sun isn’t alone

Scientists Say: Proxima b

 
The star closest to our sun isn’t alone
Proxima b

This is the shortened name for Proxima centauri b. It’s a newly-discovered planet. Scientists found it orbiting the star Proxima centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. Proxima centauri and Proxima b are only 4.2 light-years away.

Proxima b has its boring name because that’s how the International Astronomical Union (IAU) labels planets. A new planet is first named for its star — in this case, Proxima centauri. Then it gets a lower-case letter. The first planet is always “b,” followed by “c,” “d” and so on. The letters are given in the order the planets are discovered. Planets can also be named after the telescopes that spotted them.

People can ask for popular names to use for planets, in addition to their official names. For example, a group might put together a petition to name the planet after a famous scientist or a mythological figure. But the IAU has special rules for planet names. No one can name a planet after a pet (sorry, Fido). No political, military or religious figures (sorry, Ceasar). No one can name a planet after someone who is alive (sorry, Bill Nye). Commercial products are not allowed — so no planet Coca-Cola. And the name also has to be free for public use — so Captain Kirk is out. With all of those rules, Proxima b will just have to do.

In a sentence

Proxima b is close enough to its star that water could exist there as a liquid — meaning this could be a good place on which to hunt for alien life.

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Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

commercial     (in research and economics) An adjective for something that is ready for sale or already being sold. Commercial goods are those caught or produced for others, and not solely for personal consumption.

light-year     The distance light travels in one year, about 9.48 trillion kilometers (almost 6 trillion miles). To get some idea of this length, imagine a rope long enough to wrap around the Earth. It would be a little over 40,000 kilometers (24,900 miles) long. Lay it out straight. Now lay another 236 million more that are the same length, end-to-end, right after the first. The total distance they now span would equal one light-year.

liquid     A material that flows freely but keeps a constant volume, like water or oil.

planet     A celestial object that orbits a star, is big enough for gravity to have squashed it into a roundish ball and it must have cleared other objects out of the way in its orbital neighborhood. To accomplish the third feat, it must be big enough to pull neighboring objects into the planet itself or to sling-shot them around the planet and off into outer space. Astronomers of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) created this three-part scientific definition of a planet in August 2006 to determine Pluto’s status. Based on that definition, IAU ruled that Pluto did not qualify. The solar system now includes eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

star     The basic building block from which galaxies are made. Stars develop when gravity compacts clouds of gas. When they become dense enough to sustain nuclear-fusion reactions, stars will emit light and sometimes other forms of electromagnetic radiation. The sun is our closest star.

stellar     An adjective that means of or relating to stars.

telescope     Usually a light-collecting instrument that makes distant objects appear nearer through the use of lenses or a combination of curved mirrors and lenses. Some, however, collect radio emissions (energy from a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum) through a network of antennas.

 
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