NASA Astrophysicist: Number of Potentially Habitable Planets Is Greater Than the Number of People Alive on Earth

Proxima b wasn't discovered overnight. The closest exoplanet to Earth in the universe, announced Wednesday, is validation for the hard work scientists have been doing for years to find another planet as habitable as our own. 


Mission Centaur, which also focuses on the star system Alpha Centauri, is a new project and a non-profit space mission hoping to launch their space telescope next year. The documentary The Search for Earth Proxima features astronomers involved at the SETI Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, European Southern Observatory, VLT, ALMA, Triple Ring Technologies, Positron Dynamics, Onda Corporation and La Ventana Cine.

"We're super excited about the news about [Proxima b]," co-director Brett Marty told AlterNet, predominantly because it should increase exposure for similar missions. In making the film, Marty's team traveled to Chile and spent a week in the Atacama Desert capturing time lapses of the night sky. 

Watch The Search for Earth Proxima trailer:

 

"We wanted to make Alpha Centauri a very tangible thing to the viewer—to show it in the night sky and make this quest feel real. If you live in the southern hemisphere, Alpha Centauri is one of the brightest and most recognizable stars in the sky. But if you live in the northern hemisphere, you never see it," Marty said. "Spending a night at the base of an active volcano, to capture Alpha Centauri rising over magma, was a pretty fun adventure, too, if not a little nerve-wracking."
Marty interviewed a diverse array of scientists while making the documentary, including NASA astrophysicist Ruslan Belikov.
"Twenty years ago, the idea of detecting exoplanets was considered to be totally science fiction and not worthy of professional astronomers. Now [it's] one of the hottest fields in astonomy and still growing," Belikov explains in the film.
"Roughly one out of every two stars has a potentially habitable planet," Belikov continues. "The number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy is greater than the number of people alive on Earth and there's something like 100 billion galaxies in the universe."
But don't get too excited about Proxima b just yet. 

"From the reports, apparently there's not much info we can actually glean about Proxima b with our current technology. It was detected indirectly and unless we're lucky enough to see it transit in front of its star, it'll be a very long time before the planet can be characterized; before we can know if it's truly Earth-like [has an atmosphere, potentially suitable to sustain life]," Marty explained.

Speculative Films will continue to follow the story as Mission Centaur builds and launches their space telescope and explores Alpha Centauri.

Watch The Search for Earth Proxima short documentary:

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