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Article of the Month: Updated October 17, 2016

The exoplanet Kepler-452b, right, a possible candidate for Earth 2.0, as compared with Earth, left.

The exoplanet Kepler-452b (R), a possible candidate for Earth 2.0, as compared with Earth (L). Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.

Is Proxima Centauri's 'Earth-like' planet actually like Earth at all?

Just 25 years ago, scientists didn’t know if any stars—other than our own sun, of course—had planets orbiting around them. Yet they knew with certainty that gravity from massive planets caused the sun to move around our solar system’s center of mass. Therefore, they reasoned that other stars would have periodic changes to their motions if they, too, had planets.

On August 24, 2016, scientists announced that the stellar wobble of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun, indicated the existence of an exoplanet. At just 4.24 light years away, this planet orbits its red dwarf star in just 11 days, with a lower limit to its mass of just 1.3 Earths. If verified, this would bring the number of Earth-like planets found in their star's habitable zones up to 22, with 'Proxima b' being the closest one.

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Previous month's article:

One Incredible Galaxy Cluster Yields Two Types of Gravitational Lenses

There is this great idea that if you look hard enough and long enough at any region of space, your line of sight will eventually run into a luminous object: a star, a galaxy or a cluster of galaxies. In reality, the universe is finite in age, so this isn't quite the case. There are objects that emit light from the past 13.7 billion years—99 percent of the age of the universe—but none before that. Even in theory, there are no stars or galaxies to see beyond that time, as light is limited by the amount of time it has to travel. But with the advent of large, powerful space telescopes that can collect data for the equivalent of millions of seconds of observing time, in both visible light and infrared wavelengths, we can see nearly to the edge of all that's accessible to us.

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Educator Newsletter

You are also welcome to use our bimonthly Educator Newsletter in your publication. It features new content on NASA Space Place as well as resources for teachers, downloads, and notable calendar days in science history.

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Simple and fun learning activities to share with children.

The Space Place Experiment Center—Students can conduct real life science experiments and learn how the world works.

Make a Pinwheel Galaxy pinwheel—Make a pinwheel that looks just like M101, the pinwheel galaxy.

Make a Fan with Earth’s Layers—To remember that Earth is much more than just the surface we see every day, make this Earth layer fan.

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article last updated October 17, 2016
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