alpha centauri


  • [83] Unconfirmed planets Alpha Centauri A In 2021, a candidate exoplanet named Candidate 1 (abbreviated as C1) was detected around Alpha Centauri A, thought to orbit at approximately
    1.1 AU with a period of about one year, and to have a mass between that of Neptune and one-half that of Saturn, though it may be a dust disk or an artifact.

  • In early May 2028, Alpha Centauri A will pass between the Earth and a distant red star, when there is a 45% probability that an Einstein ring will be observed.

  • The angular separation between the two stars would not be exactly the same after one orbit of the planet however, because during that time the parent star will have completed
    part of its orbit around the other star in the system.

  • [112] View from this system The sky from Alpha Centauri AB would appear much as it does from the Earth, except that Centaurus would be missing its brightest star.

  • [77] Since Alpha Centauri AB is almost exactly in the plane of the Milky Way as viewed from Earth, many stars appear behind it.

  • [96][97] In 2009, computer simulations showed that a planet might have been able to form near the inner edge of Alpha Centauri B’s habitable zone, which extends from 0.5 to
    0.9 AU from the star.

  • For example, in about 6,200 AD, α Centauri’s true motion will cause an extremely rare first-magnitude stellar conjunction with Beta Centauri, forming a brilliant optical double
    star in the southern sky.

  • [103] Early computer-generated models of planetary formation predicted the existence of terrestrial planets around both Alpha Centauri A and B,[100][note 6] but most recent
    numerical investigations have shown that the gravitational pull of the companion star renders the accretion of planets difficult.

  • [101] Current estimates place the probability of finding an Earth-like planet around Alpha Centauri at roughly 75%.

  • [note 7] A planet around either α Centauri A or B would see the other star as a very bright secondary.

  • This planet would most likely orbit Alpha Centauri B with an orbital period of 20.4 days or less, with only a 5% chance of it having a longer orbit.

  • [64] For this reason, Alpha Centauri is sometimes considered as the second star to have its distance measured because Henderson’s work was not fully acknowledged at first.

  • [107] Such ideas also apply to the close approach of Alpha Centauri or other stars to the Solar System, when, in the distant future, the Oort Cloud might be disrupted enough
    to increase the number of active comets.

  • Proxima Centauri has three known planets: Proxima b, an Earth-sized exoplanet in the habitable zone discovered in 2016; Proxima c, a super-Earth 1.5 AU away, which is possibly
    surrounded by a huge ring system, discovered in 2019; and Proxima d, a candidate sub-Earth which orbits very closely to the star, announced in 2022.

  • Certain special assumptions, such as considering that the Alpha Centauri pair may have initially formed with a wider separation and later moved closer to each other (as might
    be possible if they formed in a dense star cluster), would permit an accretion-friendly environment farther from the star.

  • [80] At nearest approach, Alpha Centauri will attain a maximum apparent magnitude of −0.86, comparable to present-day magnitude of Canopus, but it will still not surpass that
    of Sirius, which will brighten incrementally over the next 60,000 years, and will continue to be the brightest star as seen from Earth (other than the Sun) for the next 210,000 years.

  • Using current spacecraft technologies, crossing the distance between the Sun and Alpha Centauri would take several millennia, though the possibility of nuclear pulse propulsion
    or laser light sail technology, as considered in the Breakthrough Starshot program, c

  • Detecting planets as small as three Earth-masses or smaller within two AU of a “Tier-1” target would have been possible with this new instrument.

  • For example, an Earth-like planet at 1.25 astronomical units from α Cen A (with a revolution period of 1.34 years) would get Sun-like illumination from its primary, and α
    Cen B would appear 5.7 to 8.6 magnitudes dimmer (−21.0 to −18.2), 190 to 2,700 times dimmer than α Cen A but still 150 to 2,100 times brighter than the full Moon.

  • Conversely, an Earth-like planet at 0.71 AU from α Cen B (with a revolution period of 0.63 years) would get nearly Sun-like illumination from its primary, and α Cen A would
    appear 4.6 to 7.3 magnitudes dimmer (−22.1 to −19.4), 70 to 840 times dimmer than α Cen B but still 470 to 5,700 times brighter than the full Moon.

  • In addition, the lack of any brown dwarfs or gas giants in close orbits around Alpha Centauri make the likelihood of terrestrial planets greater than otherwise.

  • Alpha Centauri A may have a Neptune-sized habitable-zone planet, though it is not yet known to be planetary in nature and could be an artifact of the discovery mechanism.

  • It is a main-sequence star of spectral type K1-V, making it more an orange colour than Alpha Centauri A;[44] it has around 90% of the mass of the Sun and a 14% smaller diameter.

  • Because both stars are fairly similar to the Sun (for example, in age and metallicity), astronomers have been especially interested in making detailed searches for planets
    in the Alpha Centauri system.

  • [5] Physical properties Asteroseismic studies, chromospheric activity, and stellar rotation (gyrochronology) are all consistent with the Alpha Centauri system being similar
    in age to, or slightly older than, the Sun.

  • It would be at the antipodal point of Alpha Centauri AB’s current right ascension and declination, at 02h 39m 35s +60° 50′ (2000), in eastern Cassiopeia, easily outshining
    all the rest of the stars in the constellation.

  • Other planets orbiting one member of a binary system would enjoy similar skies.

  • Alpha Centauri B has no known planets: planet Bb, purportedly discovered in 2012, was subsequently found to likely not exist, and a separate transiting planet has yet to be

  • Viewed from Earth, the apparent orbit of A and B means that their separation and position angle (PA) are in continuous change throughout their projected orbit.

  • [98][104] Despite these difficulties, given the similarities to the Sun in spectral types, star type, age and probable stability of the orbits, it has been suggested that
    this stellar system could hold one of the best possibilities for harbouring extraterrestrial life on a potential planet.

  • The AB designation, or older A×B, denotes the mass centre of a main binary system relative to companion star(s) in a multiple star system.

  • [34][42] From the orbital elements, the total mass of Alpha Centauri AB is about 2.0 M☉[note 2] – or twice that of the Sun.

  • [108] This would be discounted if, for example, Alpha Centauri B happened to have gas giants orbiting Alpha Centauri A (or vice versa), or if Alpha Centauri A and B themselves
    were able to perturb comets into each other’s inner systems as Jupiter and Saturn presumably have done in the Solar System.

  • By about 26,700 AD, in the present-day constellation of Hydra, Alpha Centauri will reach perihelion at 0.90 pc or 2.9 ly away,[79] though later calculations suggest that this
    will occur in 27,000 AD.

  • [58] Alpha Centauri may be inside the G-cloud of the Local Bubble,[59] and its nearest known system is the binary brown dwarf system Luhman 16 at 3.6 ly (1.1 pc).

  • English explorer Robert Hues brought Alpha Centauri to the attention of European observers in his 1592 work Tractatus de Globis, along with Canopus and Achernar, noting: Now,
    therefore, there are but three Stars of the first magnitude that I could perceive in all those parts which are never seene here in England.

  • Because the distance between Proxima (C) and either of Alpha Centauri A or B is similar, the AB binary system is sometimes treated as a single gravitational object.

  • [16][34][35] Until 2017, measurements of its small speed and its trajectory were of too little accuracy and duration in years to determine whether it is bound to Alpha Centauri
    AB or unrelated.

  • [94] It likely has lakes of molten lava and would be far too close to Alpha Centauri B to harbour life.

  • These showed large proper motion and parallax similar in both size and direction to those of Alpha Centauri AB, suggesting that Proxima Centauri is part of the Alpha Centauri
    system and slightly closer to Earth than Alpha Centauri AB.

  • In both cases the secondary sun would, in the course of the planet’s year, appear to circle the sky.

  • [109] With the goal of finding evidence of such planets, both Proxima Centauri and Alpha Centauri-AB were among the listed “Tier-1” target stars for NASA’s Space Interferometry
    Mission (SIM).

  • [76] Predicted future changes Based on the system’s common proper motion and radial velocities, Alpha Centauri will continue to change its position in the sky significantly
    and will gradually brighten.

  • It is a solar-like main-sequence star with a similar yellowish colour,[44] whose stellar classification is spectral type G2-V;[3] it is about 10% more massive than the Sun,[37]
    with a radius about 22% larger.

  • [98] Bodies around Alpha Centauri A would be able to orbit at slightly farther distances due to its stronger gravity.

  • With the placement of the Sun east of the magnitude 3.4 star Epsilon Cassiopeiae, nearly in front of the Heart Nebula, the “W” line of stars of Cassiopeia would have a “/W”

  • [81] Planetary system The Alpha Centauri system as a whole has three confirmed planets, all of them around Proxima Centauri.

  • The type of magnetic activity on Alpha Centauri A is comparable to that of the Sun, showing coronal variability due to star spots, as modulated by the rotation of the star.

  • The Sun would appear as a yellow star of apparent magnitude +0.47, roughly the same as the average brightness of Betelgeuse from Earth.

  • Several established planet-hunting teams have used various radial velocity or star transit methods in their searches around these two bright stars.

  • In Ptolemy’s time, Alpha Centauri was visible from Alexandria, Egypt, at 31° N, but, due to precession, its declination is now –60° 51′ South, and it can no longer be seen
    at that latitude.

  • Listed as V645 Cen in the General Catalogue of Variable Stars Version 4.2, this UV Ceti-type flare star can unexpectedly brighten rapidly by as much as 0.6 magnitude at visual
    wavelengths, then fade after only a few minutes.

  • [14] The pair orbit around a common centre with an orbital period of 79 years.

  • [112] If such a disc existed around both stars, α Centauri A’s disc would likely be stable to 2.8 AU, and α Centauri B’s would likely be stable to 2.5 AU.

  • [79] To be in the habitable zone, a planet around Alpha Centauri A would have an orbital radius of between about 1.2 and 2.1 AU so as to have similar planetary temperatures
    and conditions for liquid water to exist.

  • [34] Proxima Centauri appears as a deep-red star of a typical apparent magnitude of 11.1 in a sparsely populated star field, requiring moderately sized telescopes to be seen.

  • Alpha Centauri is a gravitationally bound system of the closest stars and exoplanets to our Solar System at 4.37 light-years (1.34 parsecs) from the Sun.

  • The parallax of Alpha Centauri was subsequently determined by Henderson from many exacting positional observations of the AB system between April 1832 and May 1833.

  • [47] Its light curve varies on a short time scale, and there has been at least one observed flare.

  • Alpha Centauri A has 1.1 times the mass and 1.5 times the luminosity of the Sun, while Alpha Centauri B is smaller and cooler, at 0.9 times the Sun’s mass and less than 0.5
    times its luminosity.

  • [24][25] In 2016, the Working Group on Star Names of the International Astronomical Union (IAU),[26] having decided to attribute proper names to individual component stars
    rather than to multiple systems,[27] approved the name Rigil Kentaurus (/ˈraɪdʒəl kɛnˈtɔːrəs/) as being restricted to Alpha Centauri A and the name Proxima Centauri (/ˈprɒksɪmə sɛnˈtɔːraɪ/) for Alpha Centauri C.[13] On 10 August 2018, the
    IAU approved the name Toliman (/ˈtɒlɪmæn/) for Alpha Centauri B.

  • [28] Stellar system Alpha Centauri is a triple star system, with its two main stars, Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, together comprising a binary component.

  • [100] Radial velocity measurements of Alpha Centauri B made with the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher spectrograph were sufficiently sensitive to detect a 4 MEarth
    planet within the habitable zone of the star (i.e.

  • [90] Alpha Centauri B In 2012, a planet around Alpha Centauri B was reported, Alpha Centauri Bb, but in 2015 a new analysis concluded that that report was an artifact of the
    data analysis.

  • [114][115][116][117] Other names In modern literature, colloquial alternative names of Alpha Centauri include Rigil Kent[118] (also Rigel Kent and variants;[note 8] /ˈraɪdʒəl
    ˈkɛnt/)[17][119] and Toliman[120] (the latter of which became the proper name of Alpha Centauri B on 10 August 2018 by approval of the International Astronomical Union).

  • [70] In the 1830s, Thomas Henderson discovered the true distance to Alpha Centauri by analysing his many astrometric mural circle observations.

  • Though not visible to the naked eye, Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Sun at a distance of 4.24 ly (1.30 pc), slightly closer than Alpha Centauri AB.

  • [53][55] As seen from Earth, Proxima Centauri is 2.2° southwest from Alpha Centauri AB, about four times the angular diameter of the Moon.

  • A 2020 paper refining Proxima b’s mass excludes the presence of extra companions with masses above 0.6 MEarth at periods shorter than 50 days, but the authors detected a radial-velocity
    curve with a periodicity of 5.15 days.

  • To the naked eye, the two main components appear to be a single star with an apparent magnitude of −0.27, the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus and
    the third-brightest in the night sky, outshone only by Sirius and Canopus.

  • [57] In August 2015, the largest recorded flares of the star occurred, with the star becoming 8.3 times brighter than normal on 13 August, in the B band (blue light region).

  • The transit event could correspond to a planetary body with a radius around 0.92 REarth.

  • In June 2020, a large ring system encircling the planet was possibly detected.


Works Cited

[‘Proxima Centauri is gravitationally bound to the α Centauri system, but for practical and historical reasons it is described in detail in its own article.
2. ^ , see formula
3. ^ This is calculated for a fixed latitude by knowing the star’s declination
(δ) using the formulae (90°+ δ). Alpha Centauri’s declination is −60° 50′, so the observed latitude where the star is circumpolar will be south of −29° 10′ South or 29°. Similarly, the place where Alpha Centauri never rises for northern observers
is north of the latitude (90°+ δ) N or +29° North.
4. ^ Proper motions are expressed in smaller angular units than arcsec, being measured in milliarcsec (mas.) (thousandths of an arcsec). Negative values for proper motion in RA indicate the sky
motion is from east to west, and in declination north to south.
5. ^ These mass limits are calculated from the observed radius of ~3.3-7 REarth applied to the equation quoted, and presumably used, to calculate the planet mass from the planet radius
in the K. Wagner et al. 2021 paper – R ∝ M0.55 (although this radius-mass relationship is for low-mass planets and not for larger gas giants). Therefore 3.31.82 = 8.77 MEarth and 71.82 = 34.52 MEarth. The Msini ≥ 53 MEarth is for a
planet at the outer edge of the conservative habitable zone, 2.1 AU, and so the upper mass limit is lower than that for the C1 planet at just 1.1 AU.
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