TAKE 27 LTD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY TAKE 27 LTD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Animation of numerous small light sail spacecraft arriving at the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b. As Proxima Centauri lies only 4.24 light years from the Sun, it could potentially be visited by probes within a human lifetime. Tiny light sail ships like this could be accelerated to up to 20% of the speed of light by powerful ground-based lasers, reaching the system in just over 20 years. This planet orbits the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri (seen at lower right towards the end of the clip), the closest star to the Sun. It is thought to be part of the Alpha Centauri system, along with the bright pair of Alpha Centauri A (larger and whiter) and B (smaller and more orange) at upper left. The existence of the planet was announced in August 2016. It lies in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, and has a mass likely between 1.3 and 3 times that of Earth. It orbits its star every 11 days at a distance of seven million kilometres. This arrangement makes it unlikely that life could exist on the planet, as it would be subject to a very strong solar wind that would strip an atmosphere.
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