The Greek astronomer joined in the coordinated international effort involving 31 scientists from eight different countries. “We used the HARPS spectograph on ESO’s 3.6m telescope in Chile to measure how the star ‘wobbles’ as the planet goes around it,” said Tsapras, in an interview with Greek-Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos. “At the same time, we also used the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network and ASH2 telescopes to record how active the star is, so that we would not mistake stellar activity for a real planetary signal.”
Scientists were excited with the discovery of Proxima Centaur B, the new planet found orbiting the sun’s closest star. The planet has a mass that is roughly earth-like and it has a temperature that supports liquid water at its surface but the rest is speculation. Astronomer Yiannis Tsapras is one of the researchers of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) that made the discovery viewed as a major step in the quest for life outside our solar system.
He said that there are already thousands of planets orbiting distant stars, but the earth-mass planet in a temperature zone around Proxima Centauri is just 4.2 light years away that makes this an important discovery. He said that he used a network of telescopes to monitor the star’s stellar activity throughout the campaign and analyzed the observations that showed that the planetary signal was not due to the activity of the star.
Asked if there is life on the planet, Tsapras can only speculate. He said that there are many “ifs” but nothing is known yet for certain. He said that there are many planets that are candidates for life. “Once we have established their abundance and picked out the best candidates, the next step would be to launch high-tech space telescopes to look for indications of life on them, which would probably take one or two decades,” he said. He said that this is exciting as living generations for the first time in human history are likely to have an indication of whether there is life on other planets.
Tsapras says that he has no aspirations, just “insatiable curiosity” that has affected his outlook on life by giving him a “different perception of the ‘self’ in regards to what is ‘out there.'” He quotes Carl Sagan in summarizing that “astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.”