Astronomers have discovered another candidate exoplanet orbiting our neighbor Proxima Centauri. A paper announcing these results was just published in the journal Science Advances. If confirmed, it will be the second exoplanet discovered to be orbiting the star.
It was big news in 2016 when astronomers discovered a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri (PC), the nearest star to our sun. That planet, named Proxima b, is potentially habitable, and at the time, there was speculation that we could send a robotic explorer there in only a few decades. The discovery of a second planet, even though it’s likely too far away from its star for liquid water, is intensifying interest in the PC system.
The discoverers of this new planet, Proxima c, say that follow-up observations are needed to confirm it as a planet. Changes in the stellar activity of Proxima Centauri indicated the presence of another planet. But they also say that the data they have can’t be explained in terms of any stellar activity itself. Due to its proximity, and also its angular separation from the star, it is a prime candidate for follow-up observations—and even imaging—with next generation telescopes.
Proxima c’s mass is about half that of Neptune and its orbit is about 1.5 times that of Earth. Its temperature is about -200 C, if it has no atmosphere. Proxima Centauri has undergone intense astronomical scrutiny in the last few years, and that has ruled out the presence of any Jupiter-sized planets between 0.8 and 5+ astronomical units from the star. But finding Proxima c is still surprising, because its presence challenges our models of how super-Earths form and evolve.
The lead author of this study is Mario Damasso from the INAF Astrophysical Observatory of Turin, Italy. The study is titled “A low-mass planet candidate orbiting Proxima Centauri at a distance of 1.5 AU.” It was published on January 15th, 2020.
Hugh Jones, a Professor of Astrophysics at Hertfordshire University, was also involved in the study. In an article in The Conversation, Jones pointed out how difficult it can be to separate data showing the presence of a planet, from data showing stellar activity at the host star. “Just like our sun, Proxima has spots caused by regions of intense magnetic activity which are moving in and out of view, changing in intensity on a variety of timescales. These features need to be considered when searching for any planetary signals.”
Even though stellar activity doesn’t match the data, the discoverers are being cautious until follow-up observations can either confirm or deny the presence of Proxima c, and definitively rule out stellar activity.
The discovery of this new candidate exoplanet is contained in this new paper, but the history goes back a few years.
Multiple teams of scientists have scoured Proxima Centauri for exoplanets. Much of their work depended on radial velocity data, notably from the ESO’s HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher.) Study by study, astronomers have excluded the presence of certain mass-range planets within certain AU ranges from PC.
A 1999 study excluded the presence of any planets beyond 1700 AUs of PC, because PC itself orbits Alpha Centauri AB. A 2019 study set an upper limit of 0.3 Jupiter masses for any planet within 10 AU of PC. That same study excluded the presence of planets between 10 and 50 AU in the mass range 0.3 to 8 masses of Jupiter. Other studies put on more constraints.
But astronomers also know that red dwarfs host more small planets than other types of stars. So they kept looking.
Can We Really Send a Spacecraft There?
The Breakthrough Starshot Initiative (BSI) thinks they can send a tiny spacecraft to Proxima Centauri.
When the Centauri b exoplanet was discovered in 2016, the BSI got to work. They think they can send a nano-spacecraft with cameras to within one AU of the planet and return images much more detailed than we can hope to achieve with any telescope. They say they should be able to return images showing continents and oceans. On their website, BSI says “To achieve comparable resolution with a space telescope in Earth’s orbit, the telescope would have to be 300km in diameter.”
But even though PC is “close” in astronomical terms, it’s still an immense distance away. At 4.2 light years away, it would still take decades to get there, traveling at 20% the speed of light (about 216,000,000 kilometers per hour.) Currently, the fastest spacecraft is NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which will reach a top speed of only 692,000 km/h.
But whether we can get a spacecraft there or not is only part of the story. Due to its proximity, the Proxima Centauri system is an observable laboratory for understanding other solar systems. And its presence and proximity might spur further technological development needed to study it and other systems in more detail.
As Hugh Jones said in his article at The Conversation, “Ultimately, the discovery of multiple signals from the very closest star shows that planets are more common than stars. Proxima represents an excellent location for understanding the closest exoplanets and developing new technologies to better understand the universe we live in.”
Proxima c’s existence is problematic, or at least significant, for our planet formation models. Among super-Earth planets around low-mass stars detected by radial velocity, Proxima c would have both the longest period and the lowest mass. It would also be the furthest distance from its parent star than the frost line in the original protoplanetary disk. The frost line was probably at 0.15 AU.
The authors say that it’s unlikely that Proxima c was kicked out from its initial position closer to the star due to some instability, “because its orbit is consistent with a circular one, and because of the absence of more massive planets on shorter orbital distance.”
In their paper, they say, “The formation of a super-Earth well beyond the snowline challenges formation models according to which the snowline is a sweet spot for the accretion of super-Earths, due to the accumulation of icy solids at that location.”
Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, or M dwarf. It’s about 4.2 light years away from the sun, making it our closest neighbor. It’s the third star in a trinary system, with the Alpha Centauri AB binary star. Proxima Centauri is about 13,000 AU from Alpha Centauri AB, and was discovered in 1915.
Mario Damasso et al. A low-mass planet candidate orbiting Proxima Centauri at a distance of 1.5 AU, Science Advances (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax7467
Possible discovery of a new super-Earth orbiting Proxima Centauri (2020, January 16)
retrieved 16 January 2020
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City council votes to move forward on proposed multi-use indoor turf facility at Chapples Park in Thunder Bay – CBC.ca
After more than four hours of discussions, presentations and debate, Thunder Bay’s city council voted to move forward on the proposed multi-use indoor turf facility at Chapples Park.
Councillors voted nine to four in favour of putting the facility out to tender for construction upon completion of the tender package and to confirm the source of financing identified in the report presented before the council on Monday night.
Before the vote was held, council received four deputations from community members, including two that requested council delay making a decision until other sources of funding were confirmed, a presentation from former city councillor and current vice-president with the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition (CLE) Joe Virdiramo about the possibility of considering the construction of a new facility on the CLE grounds, and from Mike Veneziale of Soccer Northwest Ontario.
Questions from councillors to city administration and presenters ranged from the cost of the facility to residents, the potential impact on the business case for the facility if a private turf facility is constructed at the Golf Links Road location, the source of funding for the project and potential contributions from other levels of government, as well as the level of community support.
Councillors also debated the possibility of delaying their decision until November 2021 at the latest.
That recommendation was put forth by Thunder Bay city manager Norm Gale, who sought council’s support to push the date for a decision back to provide more clarity on the city’s financial status as a result of uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fact that there is no confirmed external funding to support the project came up frequently during the council debate. Specifically, the city has an outstanding application for funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program that would be deemed ineligible if council voted to put the facility out for tender before receiving an answer in regards to their application.
However, the motion to refer the decision was defeated by a vote of nine to four, with councillors Mark Bentz, Trevor Giertuga, Brian Hamilton and Rebecca Johnson all voting in favour of pushing back the date for a decision.
The next test for the facility will come at the city council meeting on Aug 24, when councillors will vote to confirm their decision to move forward and put the facility out for tender.
What you need to know about COVID-19 in Ottawa on Tuesday, Aug. 11 – CBC.ca
What’s the latest?
School boards in Quebec and Ottawa updated their plans for September on Monday, but many parents say they still don’t know if they feel safe sending their kids back to class.
Multiple Royal Canadian Legions in eastern Ontario say they’re on the brink of bankruptcy or permanent closure since they’ve been unable to rent out halls or hold fundraisers in the pandemic.
While parts of the Ottawa area are under a heat warning, experts are starting to speak up about what the first full winter of this pandemic will look like.
How many cases are there?
There have been 2,650 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa since the pandemic began and 264 people have died of the respiratory illness.
The majority of cases in the city — 2,240 — are classified as resolved.
In all, public health officials have reported nearly 4,100 cases across eastern Ontario and western Quebec, with more than 3,500 cases resolved.
COVID-19 has killed 102 people in the region outside Ottawa: 52 in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark counties, 17 in other parts of eastern Ontario and 33 in the Outaouais.
What’s open and closed?
Ottawa is in Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan, which means more businesses are open including dine-in restaurants and movie theatres.
Indoor gatherings of up to 50 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 100 are now allowed in that province but attendees must follow physical distancing guidelines.
The Canada Science and Technology Museum reopens Friday and the Canadian Museum of Nature Sept, 5, following other national museums.
Most Ottawa Public Library branches will be open for in-person browsing and computer use next week.
Elementary students in Ontario will be heading back to school full time come September, while most high school students will split their time between the classroom and online learning, depending on the board.
Individual boards have started to release further guidance.
Distancing and isolating
The novel coronavirus primarily spreads through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes on another person or object. People don’t need to have symptoms to be contagious.
That means physical distancing measures such as working from home, meeting others outdoors as much as possible and keeping distance from anyone they don’t live with or have in their circle, including when you have a mask on.
Masks are now mandatory in indoor public settings in all of eastern Ontario and Quebec, where transit officials and taxi drivers are now required to bar access to users over age 12 who refuse to wear one.
Masks are also recommended outdoors when you can’t stay the proper distance from others.
Anyone who has symptoms or travelled recently outside Canada must self-isolate for at least 14 days.
Anyone waiting for a COVID-19 test result in Ontario must self-isolate at least until they know the result. Quebec asks people waiting to only self-isolate in certain circumstances.
People in both provinces should self-isolate if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive or is presumed to have COVID-19.
WATCH | Q&A on changes to the testing strategy
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health strongly urges self-isolation for people with weakened immune systems and OPH recommends people over 70 stay home as much as possible.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 can range from a cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, with common symptoms including fever, a dry cough, vomiting and the loss of taste or smell.
Less common symptoms include chills, headaches and pinkeye. Children can develop a rash.
If you have severe symptoms, call 911.
Where to get tested
In eastern Ontario:
In Ottawa any resident who feels they need a test, even if they are not showing symptoms, can be tested at one of three sites.
Inuit in Ottawa can call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 for service, including testing, in Inuktitut or English on weekdays.
In the Eastern Ontario Health Unit area, there is a drive-thru centre in Casselman that can handle 200 tests a day and assessment centres in Hawkesbury and Winchester that don’t require people to call ahead.
Others in Alexandria, Rockland and Cornwall require an appointment.
In Kingston, the Leon’s Centre is hosting the city’s test site. Find it at Gate 2.
Napanee‘s test centre is open daily for people who call for an appointment.
You can arrange a test in Bancroft, Belleville or Trenton by calling the centre and in Picton by texting or calling.
WATCH | New mobile test aims to identify sick employees on the job
The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark unit asks you to get tested if you have a symptom or concerns about exposure.
It has a walk-in site in Brockville at the Memorial Centre and testing sites in Smiths Falls and Almonte which require an appointment.
There are test clinics in five Renfrew County communities this week.
Its residents should call their family doctor and those without access to a family doctor can call 1-844-727-6404 to register for a test or if they have health questions, COVID-19-related or not.
In western Quebec:
Outaouais residents now can get a walk-in test in Gatineau five days a week at 135 blvd. Saint-Raymond and at recurring clinics by appointment in communities such as Gracefield, Val-des-Monts and Fort-Coulonge.
They can call 1-877-644-4545 to make an appointment or if they have other questions.
As of mid-August, there were longer wait times for test results here compared to some other regions of Quebec.
Local communities have declared states of emergency, put in a curfew or both.
It has a mobile COVID-19 test site available by appointment only. Anyone returning to the community on the Canadian side of the international border who’s been farther than 80 kilometres away is asked to self-isolate for 14 days. It’s 100 miles or 160 kilometres away on the American side.
Anyone in Tyendinaga who’s interested in a test can call 613-967-3603 to talk to a nurse. Face coverings are now mandatory in its public buildings.
People in Pikwakanagan can book an appointment for a COVID-19 test by calling 613-625-2259.
Kitigan Zibi is planning for an Aug. 29 election with changes depending on the status of the pandemic at that time. It plans on starting to open schools and daycares next month.
For more information
Game on for indoor turf facility – Tbnewswatch.com
THUNDER BAY – A controversial indoor sports complex looks set to move ahead after Thunder Bay’s city council voted to put the project to tender following hours of debate Monday night.
The decision still needs to be ratified by council at its next meeting on Aug. 24, though its passage on a 9-4 vote would seem to make a reversal unlikely.
The Chapples Park facility would offer opportunities for sports including soccer, ultimate frisbee, cricket, football, lacrosse, and baseball training, with a full size indoor field that can be divided in four for smaller games and practice.
The project comes with a price tag of $33.6 million – though a recent review by the city’s Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) suggested actual costs to the city could exceed $48 million.
A group of four councillors – Mark Bentz, Trevor Giertuga, Brian Hamilton, and Rebecca Johnson – argued council should delay a decision on the project given the uncertain financial impact of COVID-19 and lack of hoped-for support from upper levels of government.
That echoed a recommendation to wait from city manager Norm Gale and the results of city consultations, which showed a majority of respondents opposed moving forward with the project at this time.
Of the 405 respondents to a survey on the project in July and August, 23 per cent opposed it outright, while another 27 per cent felt now was not the right time to go ahead with it. That compared to 35 per cent who clearly supported it.
Proponents, however, argued Monday the cost of the project was worth bearing given its benefits. It would meet the desperate need for indoor recreation opportunities in the city – especially for youth – and help make Thunder Bay a more attractive place for young people, they said.
“It’s going to continue bringing people into our city and keep people from leaving it,” Soccer Northwest president Mike Veneziale told councillors. “When young professionals are looking to move to a city, this is something they’d look towards.”
The head of the group, which has long advocated for a permanent indoor facility, said the venue still wouldn’t meet demand for field time during the winter, and was likely to turn a profit after its second year in operation.
Coun. Andrew Foulds framed the turf facility as a legacy project with the power to help define the city and the opportunities it offers, comparing it to the community auditorium. The uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis made approving it the most difficult decision in his 14 years on city council, he said – but ultimately felt its positive impact would justify the expense.
Just how much the facility is likely to cost the city remains up for debate. So far unsuccessful in securing support from the provincial or federal governments, the municipality now could bear its full cost.
That was a deal-breaker for councillors like Giertuga and Johnson, given a projected $7 million deficit for the city in 2020 thanks to the pandemic.
“I think we need an endorsement from the community, and right now they’re saying no,” said Johnson.
Neebing ward councillor Cody Fraser acknowledged the project may be unpopular with many constituents and said voting for it could hurt him electorally, but felt strongly it was the right thing for the community’s future.
He had yet to speak to someone under age 35 who opposed it, he said.
“To be frank, I’m upset that the conversation’s all about money,” he said. “I think this facility is a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of some kind of normalcy, whatever that’s going to look like.”
Putting the project to tender means it’s no longer eligible for nearly $22 million in federal infrastructure dollars the city had applied for. Applications for around $1 million through NOHFC and FedNor are still outstanding, while the city says it will continue to seek other sources.
The facility itself is estimated to cost $33.6 million, but with interest payments expected on a possible $15 million debenture needed to pay for the project over 25 years, the cost rises to $42 million.
The debenture would supplement around $15 million already saved in an Indoor Turf Facility Reserve Fund, $3.3 million from the Renew Thunder Bay Reserve Fund, and around $500,000 from 2020 Municipal Accommodation Tax dollars.
The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) called the city’s cost estimates into question in a recent review of the project, saying it could in fact wind up costing $48 million or more, partly due to the impact of COVID-19 on construction costs.
A last-minute intervention from the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition (CLE), asking the city to consider its intercity location for the indoor sports complex, went unheeded despite promises the move would save the city money on site preparation and attract more visitors thanks to its central location.
City administration expected the project would take 24 to 26 months to complete after going to tender.
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