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NASA`s Hubble Telescope to use rare stellar alignment for planet hunt

Last Updated: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 15:28

Washington: NASA`s Hubble Space Telescope will have two opportunities in the next few years to hunt for Earth-sized planets around the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.

The opportunities will occur in October 2014 and February 2016 when Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our sun, passes in front of two other stars.

Astronomers plotted Proxima Centauri`s precise path and predicted the two close encounters using data from Hubble.

"Proxima Centauri`s trajectory offers a most interesting opportunity because of its extremely close passage to the two stars," Kailash Sahu, an astronomer with the Space Science Telescope Institute in Baltimore, said.

Previous attempts to detect planets around Proxima Centauri have not been successful.

Astronomers believe they may be able to detect smaller terrestrial planets, if they exist, by looking for microlensing effects during the two rare stellar alignments.

Microlensing occurs when a foreground star passes close to our line of sight to a more distant background star.

These images of the background star may be distorted, brightened and multiplied depending on the alignment between the foreground lens and the background source.

These microlensing events, ranging from a few hours to a few days in duration, will enable astronomers to measure precisely the mass of this isolated red dwarf.


First Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 15:23
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