As you know, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. For today’s post, I was planning to draw a really pretty picture of a really planet—a planet that astronomers may (or may not) have found in the Proxima Centauri system. But as I did my research about this possible planet, I realized I needed to draw something else for you first.
As reported in this 2017 paper, temperature readings indicate that Proxima Centauri may have at least one and as many as three asteroid belts. Based on what I’ve read, it sounds like the presence of these belts has not been definitively proven yet. But no one seems to be able to definitively disprove them either.
So here is a map of everything we currently know or suspect exists in the Proxima Centauri system.
As you can see, the planet Proxima b is in an extremely tight orbit around its star. But since Proxima Centauri is much smaller and cooler than our Sun, Proxima b is technically in the star’s habitable zone. Click here for my post on whether or not Proxima b could actually support life.
Beyond the orbit of Proxima b, we find our first possible asteroid belt. In that 2017 paper I cited above, this innermost belt is described as the warm dust belt. It appears to be located approximately 0.4 AU away from its star (roughly equivalent to the orbit of Mercury in our Solar System).
A little farther out, we find a second possible asteroid belt, which the authors of that 2017 paper describe as the cold dust belt. Remember: we suspect these dust belts exist because of temperature measurements, hence the names. The cold dust belt appears to be spread out between 1 AU and 4 AU (roughly equivalent to the space between the orbits of Earth and Jupiter in our Solar System).
And then farther out still, there appears to be a third belt, referred to as the outer dust belt (in my opinion, it should have been named the colder dust belt). The outer dust belt appears to be located approximately 30 AU away from its star (roughly equivalent to the orbit of Neptune).
I want to emphasize again: as far as I can tell from my own research, no one has definitively proven or disproven these dust belts exist. All we have are some temperature measurements that suggest something might possibly be there.
But if all those dust belts do exist, that tells us there should be planets orbiting in the gaps between the belts. It would take a planet’s gravity to keep those gaps empty. And now that you know that, I think we’re ready to take a closer look at Proxima c.
Except tomorrow is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, so our trip to Proxima c will have to wait. But I promise the wait will be worth it. Science predicts that if Proxima c really exists, it must be the most gorgeous planet you’ve ever seen!
Next time on Planet Pailly, the unexpected benefits of having your manuscript edited.