(Australian Associated Press)
International astronomers in Chile have begun a hunt for an earth-like exoplanet, focusing their efforts on the closest star to the solar system, Proxima Centauri.
The La Silla telescope at the European Southern Observatory in the Atacama desert, 600km north of Santiago, is taking part in the Pale Red Dot project, whereby the public can follow how science is done in modern observatories.
Astronomers will gather data on the red dwarf star 4.2 light years from earth hoping to find tiny “wobbles” in its motion caused by an orbiting planet.
According to researchers, the study will help to establish whether a planet is in the star’s “habitable zone” – the region around the star where life could exist – and whether it has other earth-like characteristics, such as an atmosphere.
“If our expectations are confirmed, that place will be the next best site to look for extraterrestrial life,” said University of Chile astronomer James Jenkins in a documentary.
Previous observations have turned up indications of a small companion orbiting Proxima Centauri, and this is the main reason for the project, which will run through the first week of April.
It is expected the results obtained will be available to the public by the end of this year.
The planet hunt will be documented with daily posts on the social networks but the outcome is as yet uncertain.
The data gathered will be complimented with images provided by robotic telescopes located all around the world.