Join the hunt for Earth-like exoplanets

Last year saw the discovery of a rocky exoplanet around the nearby star Proxima Centauri.

An artist’s impression of the surface of exoplanet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

The team of astronomers who discovered an exoplanet around the closest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri, are once again turning to the public for help continuing their search.

Dr Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London led the team that discovered exoplanet Proxima b last year.

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The discovery was confirmed by ESO’s Pale Red Dot campaign.

Now a new campaign called Red Dots will track the astronomers’ success as they look for more exoplanets around some of the closest stars to our Solar System.

These will include Proxima Centauri, as the team believe there could be at least one more exoplanet in orbit around it, Barnard’s star, a red dwarf located six lightyears away, and Ross 154, a fellow red dwarf star found 10 lightyears away.

The team will use the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher on ESO’s 3.6 metre telescope in Chile, as well as other telescopes across the world, over a period of about 90 nights.

They will be looking for help from professional and amateur astronomers to assist in the photometric follow up of all three stellar targets.

Dr. Anglada-Escudé says: “Exploration of the nearest stars for terrestrial planets is intrinsically exciting.

We want to capitalise on that to expose the way we work in science, to show the difference between data and interpretation, and to invite people to participate in the painful process of learning something new over the course of nearly 100 days of data collection.

“We also expect to get feedback and the help of inquisitive minds attempting innovative approaches. This is also an experiment after all.

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We’ll see what happens!”