Alpha Centauri has at least one planet, Cornish signs

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Two quick things to note as tonight is another debate night. Gut prediction of how the media fallout will be for the remaining two debates: tonight's debate will declare Obama the slight winner (lower expectations and stronger focus this time but Romney is never truly off his game), and the last one will be an outright tie.

And now to the big news: Alpha Centauri (B, the smaller one) has a planet. We knew already that planets are likely to exist there, but until now the only thing we knew for sure was that Proxima Centauri does not have a Neptune-sized or larger planet orbiting it at a distance equal to or less than the orbit of the Earth.

As to the planet that has been discovered: it is the size of Earth...and extremely close to its parent star, so uninhabitable (as far as we know). The planet orbits the star in just 3+ days - compare this to Mercury at 88 days. Alpha Centauri B is 500 degrees cooler than our sun (5200K vs. 5700K) and has 90% the mass, but that doesn't help our planet at that distance.

This planet has much of the ingredients needed for a truly exciting piece of news: distance (no planet could be closer), and size. With life as we know it probably inconceivable it is not the holy grail of exoplanetology, but Alpha Centauri is the closest and nearly most well-known star system out there, and that alone makes this a huge piece of news. In fact, the information might even have to be incorporated into the upcoming sequels of Avatar.

If a gas giant in the habitable zone is discovered around Alpha Centauri A, the name will certainly be Polyphemus. Thanks to Avatar a discovery of the sort may turn out to be as exciting as direct confirmation of an Earth-sized planet in the same area.

One other piece of unrelated yet interesting news: a community college in Cornwall (Fowey Community College) now has Cornish signs on the doors. Signage is just about the cheapest way one can promote and protect a minority language, making the difference between never ever encountering a language in one's daily life and rarely to sometimes encountering it. Signage is just about the opposite of intense immersion programs: signage creates a wide and shallow knowledge, while intense immersion creates a depth of knowledge in the few that opt to undergo it.


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