Star's path in the sky will allow astronomers to hunt for planets

June 3, 2013 at 6:30 PM   |   Comments

BALTIMORE, June 3 (UPI) -- Astronomers say the Hubble telescope will have two opportunities in the next few years to hunt for Earth-sized planets around our sun's nearest neighbor star.

The opportunities will present themselves in October 2014 and February 2016 when Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our sun, passes in front of two other stars, a release from the Space Science Telescope Institute in Baltimore said Monday.

"Proxima Centauri's trajectory offers a most interesting opportunity because of its extremely close passage to the two stars," institute astronomer Kailash Sahu said.

The close passage will provide a rare opportunity to study warping of space by Proxima's gravity from the apparent displacement of the two stars in sky photographs -- an effect called gravitational lensing -- and the amount of warping will be used to calculate a precise mass for Proxima Centauri and look for the gravitational footprint of any planets orbiting the star, astronomers said.

However, they added, the position shifts will be too small to be perceived by any but the most sensitive telescopes in space and on the ground, so in addition to Hubble the European Space Agency's Gaia space telescope and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope will make additional measurements.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
Recommended UPI Stories
Most Popular
Newfoundland fossil is earliest evidence of muscled animals
Obama's plan calls for computer chip implants to help soldiers heal
Washington State's Elwha River flows free once again
Study: gamblers' brains not unlike those of pigeons
Wolf yawns are contagious
Trending News