June 4, 2013
Unique Opportunity To Search For Planets Around Proxima Centauri
John P. Millis, Ph.D. for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Besides our own Sun, the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to Earth. As such, astronomers have sought to determine if planets orbit the tiny object. But because of its low brightness, and other issues, previous attempts to find planets using traditional methods have failed.
Essentially, because of the mass of Proxima Centauri, the light from the star behind it will be bent. Since astronomers know where the background star should be, they can now measure how much the light is being deflected. From this they can more accurately determine the mass of Proxima Centauri.
If any planets were present, however, there would also be a secondary lensing effect, which would also be a function of the planetary mass. This planetary microlensing effect would be small, as the planets themselves are likely of low mass. But because Proxima is so close, the effect could still be detectible from Earth. Even so, only the most powerful optical telescopes in the world will have a chance of measuring the distortions.