We may have a new home closer than we think

Most of the time, we take it for granted — at least I do — that planet earth is a truly special place.

If Earth had been too much closer to the sun it would be char-broiled, and if it had been a little further from the sun it would be a frozen tundra. Earth sits in what is often called the Goldilocks zone – not too hot and not too cold — virtually the perfect distance from the sun.

This, of course, is not the only thing that makes earth special, for instance Venus sits in the Goldilocks zone but thanks to a runaway greenhouse effect Venus is actually warmer on its surface than Mercury, which is closer to the sun.

So obviously many things have to go right to have such a livable planet. Technically, Mars also lies in the habitable zone, and yet Mars is so small that most of the gases that made up its atmosphere escaped, leaving it with a very tiny atmosphere and also leaving it quite cold, making it difficult for life to exist.

Yet the most important thing is indeed having the planet in the Goldilocks zone. Without that it seems that life would not be possible, or at the very least, extremely difficult. It is possible for instance that volcanic activity and other geothermal processes could make life possible outside this zone, it would be a difficult task to have such a planet or perhaps even moon.

So it may be very good news that astronomers have discovered on our nearest neighbor star that there is a planet that exists within that star’s livable region.

Each star’s livable region is different based on energy output. It happens that Proxima Centauri (our nearest neighbor star at 4.24 light years away or about 24,910,000,000,000 miles) is a red dwarf star. This is what our sun will turn into someday after burning out most of its fuel (and destroying the closest four planets in its wrath). Since red dwarfs have so little fuel left, their habitable zone is much closer than say the sun’s.

Amazingly, there is a planet, not that much larger than Earth, which is in the Goldilocks zone of Proxima Centauri. So there is hope that this planet could be habitable. What makes this special is how close this planet is. As time has gone on, astronomers have discovered a number of potentially livable planets, but this one is close enough that maybe someday we will be able to reach it.

Current technology will not allow such distances to be traveled, since the distance is so large, but perhaps sometime in the near future we will be able to develop a space craft that could travel such distances in a reasonable amount of time. Perhaps we could get there in say 15 years, rather than the approximately 80,000 years it would take with our current technology.

As we continue to learn more about the universe around us, more exciting possibilities emerge. I do hope that someday we are sending brave souls to search this amazing planet.