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News Release Archive:

News Release 66 of 951

June 3, 2013 10:15 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2013-22

Rare Stellar Alignment Offers Opportunity to Hunt for Planets

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Image: Proper Motion Path of Proxima Centauri

Proper Motion Path of Proxima CentauriSTScI-PRC2013-22

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ABOUT THIS IMAGE:

This plot shows the projected motion of the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri (green line) over the next decade, as plotted from Hubble Space Telescope observations. Because of parallax due to Earth's motion around the Sun, the path appears scalloped. Because Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our Sun (distance, 4.2 light-years), its angular motion across the sky is relatively fast compared to much more distant background stars. This means that in 2014 and 2016 Proxima Centauri will pass in front of two background stars that are along its path. This affords astronomers a rare opportunity to study warping of space by Proxima's gravity, as will be evident in the apparent displacement of the two stars in sky photographs. This effect is called gravitational lensing. The amount of warping will be used to calculate a precise mass for Proxima Centauri and look for the gravitational footprint and any planets orbiting the star. The background image shows a wider view of the region of sky in the southern constellation Centaurus that Proxima is traversing.

Object Names: Proxima Centauri, Alpha Centauri C

Image Type: Astronomical/Illustration

Credit: NASA, ESA, K. Sahu and J. Anderson (STScI), H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University), M. Dominik (University of St. Andrews), and Digitized Sky Survey (STScI/AURA/UKSTU/AAO)

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