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Remember that planet discovered near Alpha Centauri almost exactly a year ago? As you may remember, it’s the closest system to Earth, making some people speculate about how quickly we could get a spacecraft in that general direction. Four light years is close in galactic terms, but it’s a little far away for the technology we have now — unless we wanted to wait a few tens thousands of years for the journey to complete.
Meanwhile, we can at least take pictures of that star system. The Hubble Space Telescope team has released a new picture of Alpha Centauri’s sister star, Proxima Centauri. While Proxima is technically the closest star to Earth, it’s too faint to be seen by the naked eye, which is not all that surprising given it is only an eighth of the sun’s mass. Sometimes, however, it gets a little brighter.
“Proxima is what is known as a ‘flare star’, meaning that convection processes within the star’s body make it prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness.” stated the Hubble European Space Agency Information Centre.
“The convection processes not only trigger brilliant bursts of starlight but, combined with other factors, mean that Proxima Centauri is in for a very long life.”
How long? Well, consider the following: the universe is about 13.8 billion years old and Proxima is expected to remain in middle age for another four TRILLION years. Plenty of time for us to send a spacecraft over there if we’re patient enough. (The universe itself is expected to last a while, as Wise Geek explains.)
The picture was nabbed with Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, with neighbouring stars Alpha Centauri A and B out of the frame.