Astronomers saw a glimpse of unknown planet circling one of the closest stars to Earth. Scientists spotted a bright dot near one of the binary star – Alpha Centauri A. Alpha Centauri A and Alpa Centauri B swing tightly around each other in the southern constellation of Centaurus that they appear as one. These stars form a binary pair 4.22 light-years from Earth, merely stone’s throw away in terms of cosmological theory.
The sighting is so uncertain that the researchers are referring it to as only a ‘planet candidate’, as it is highly possible that the bright spot in darkness of wide space could be evidence of alien planetoids, dust streaks, or prosaically an unforeseen technical glitch in the equipment. The project lead stated that they detected something, it could be a planet, asteroids, dust or merely an artefact in the equipment. The team was working on an experiment – New Earths in the Alpha Centauri Region (NEAR) – sponsored by Breakthrough Watch, during which they observed the star. NEAR project focuses on finding and studying Earth-sized planets around the Alpha Centauri and other nearby stars.
However, according to some experts, planets cannot form in a binary star, because of which, the team is very cautious about claiming it to be a planet. If further observations confirm it to be a planet, this sighting would be the first to use coronagraph to directly image the plant around nearby stars. Additionally, the team mentioned that the planet would be approximately the size of Neptune, and would be in habitable zone of the star, that means the temperatures will allow water to form, and it would take nearly a decade to complete one orbit. In comparison to Earth, Neptune is around four times the size of it, without a solid surface. In fact, Neptune’s core is Earth-sized, enveloped by a thick liquid consisting of water, ammonia, and methane gas that makes it blue like Uranus.
The telescope used by astronomers was Very Large Telescope (VLT) to look for planet around the star, which was operated by the European Southern Observatory from Cerro Paranal in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The equipment was integrated by new coronagraph on it that helped to block out light from Alpha Centauri, making it clearer to spot orbiting bodies. Scientists liken the equipment to blotting-out the sun with a finger at an arm’s reach, and describe that it is like trying to see flashlight right next to a bright lighthouse. Moreover, the procedure permits for an exceptional sensitivity to directly image the extragalactic planets. The researchers also described how the 100-hours procedure of infrared observations in May and June 2019 helped them see a glimpse, a bright dot, which they have not been able to explain.
Scientists will require to study it independently and separately to detect and confirm this as just a dust disc or an actual planet around the star. Either of it could prove to be interesting outcomes. The team wants to observe it again later in the year to check if the ‘candidate planet’ moved to predicted place or not; however raging coronavirus pandemic might obstruct the further findings schedule.