Astronomers are constantly scanning the observable universe for stars with planetary systems. Most of the planets they find are totally uninhabitable. They’re too close to or too far from their sun. They’re too big. Their atmospheres are toxic stews. There’s no evidence of water, the thing life needs to develop.
But with each passing year, more Earth-like planets are being discovered. And it turns out that the closest exoplanet to us is way more habitable than scientists first thought.
Proxima b, the designation given to the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, is only 4.2 light-years away. Its mass is 1.17 that of Earth (close enough) and it sits in the so-called Goldilocks Zone, that sweet spot in an orbit that’s not to hot nor too cool. At the same time, though it whips around its star in 11.2 days.
The idea of an Earth-like planet in the Proxima Centauri system has been around for a few years. If you’re a sci-fi fan and you haven’t yet the Three Body Problem trilogy by Cixin Lui, do it now because it’s some of the best science fiction you will ever read. The story can be summed up like this: Earth sends a message out to the cosmos saying “We’re here.” A planet in the Centauri system answers back: “Gotcha. Hang on. We’ll be there in a few years to invade.” Truly brilliant, brilliant stuff.
Building on the Proxima b excitement is a new song from Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard called, yes, “Proxima B.”
“This one I wrote a while ago and I was going to have it out as a single for my solo tour this spring,” Gibbard says. “It’s about a planet that was discovered deep, deep in the cosmos, called Proxima B. The three things you need to know about Proxima B to understand the song are: One, there’s a planet called Proxima B that they think has water on it. It’s somewhat Earth-like. Secondly, it orbits the star called Centauri. And three, there’s been a lot of talk of ‘Ooh, maybe we can get there at some point.’ So I wrote this song in response to that.”