UW Today

April 19, 2017

Proxima b discoverer to join UW astrobiologists for May 3 lecture, discussion

News and Information

The lead investigator of the research team that discovered Proxima Centauri b, the closest exoplanet, will join University of Washington astrobiologists May 3 to discuss the planet’s potential for life and even the possibility of sending spacecraft to the world.

Guillen Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London, will give a lecture titled “Proxima Centauri b: A World of Possibilities” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 3. in 120 Kane Hall. This will be followed by brief comments by UW astronomy professors Victoria Meadows and Rory Barnes as well as Olivier Guyon, professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, and a panel discussion.

Anglada-Escude was principal investigator for the team that in August 2016 detected Proxima Centauri b orbiting its star 4.22 light years, or about 25 trillion miles away in the constellation of Centaurus. Not only the exoplanet orbiting the closest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri b is also probably similar in mass to Earth and receives about the same amount of starlight from its host star, raising the possibility that it could be habitable.

Following Anglada-Escudé, Barnes will talk about the planet’s formation and evolution with an eye toward water being possible there today. Meadows, lead investigator of the UW-based Virtual Planetary Laboratory, will discuss the ramifications of the planet’s evolution on the possibility of life on Proxima Centauri b, and how we might look for it.

Guyon, an expert on exoplanet imaging who is also project scientist for Japan’s Subaru telescope, will then discuss technology coming online in the next decade to observe Proxima Centauri b with massive telescopes.

He will also talk about Starshot, one of the Breakthrough Initiatives supported by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and physicist Stephen Hawking, which proposes to use a high-powered, Earth-based laser to send a swarm of lightweight, sail-like probes to the planet at about one-fifth the speed of light.

The event is sponsored by the UW Astrobiology Program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Admission is free but online registration to the event is required.

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For more information on their work, contact Barnes at 206-543-8979 or rory@astro.washington.edu; or Meadows at 206-543-0206 or vsm@astro.washington.edu. To learn more about the event, contact astrobio@uw.edu.

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