New Image Captured by ALMA Shows a Cold Cosmic Dust Surrounding Sun’s Closest Star 

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A faint red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri is located around four light years away and is the closest star to the Sun.  Proxima b orbits this star and is the closest planet to the Solar System.

However, there’s much more here than just a single planet; there’s also a great deal of cold cosmic dust surrounding the star. The dust around Proxima is important because, following the discovery of the terrestrial planet Proxima b, it’s the first indication of the presence of an elaborate planetary system, and not just a single planet, around the star closest to our Sun,” said the lead author of the study, Guillem Anglada.

The ALMA Observatory in Chile has detected dust around the closest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri. These new observations reveal the glow coming from cold dust in a region between one to four times as far from Proxima Centauri as the Earth is from the Sun. ESO/M. Kornmesser

Particles of rock and ice that make up these dust belts vary in size from some as small as dust grains to those as big as asteroids.  In the case of Proxima Centauri dust lies in a belt that extends from the star and has a mass that’s around one-hundredth of the Earth’s mass.  It’s also extremely cold here, with temperatures as low as -230 degrees Celsius.

The ALMA data also hints that there may be another even colder belt of cosmic dust further out.  Both belts are located much further away from Proxima Centauri that Proxima b.  “This result suggests that Proxima Centauri may have multiple planet systems with a rich history of interactions that resulted in the formation of a dust belt.  Further study may also provide information that might point to the locations of as yet unidentified additional planets,” explained Anglada.

These new observations are exciting for astronomers as is the start of something big.  “These first results show that ALMA can detect dust structures orbiting around Proxima.  Further observations will give us a more detailed picture of Proxima’s planetary system.  In combination with the study of protoplanetary discs around young stars, many of the details of the processes that led to the formation of the Earth and the Solar System about 4600 million years ago will be unveiled.  What we are seeing now is just the appetizer compares to what is coming.”

Article Source; ESO. 

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