Lee Billings, Scientific American

The search for exoplanets—planets orbiting stars other than our sun—has been a booming subfield of astronomy for more than 20 years. Astronomers have used ground-based observatories as well as space telescopes like NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission to discover thousands of worlds in a broad range of sizes and orbits around a wide variety of stars, and are poised to find tens to hundreds of thousands more in years to come. Yet one key question remains unanswered: Of the billions of potentially habitable, potentially Earth-like planets that statistics tell us should exist in the Milky Way, how far off is “Earth Proxima”—the very closest one? 

 An artist's illustration of Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars. More planets orbiting two stars have been found since Kepler-16b’s discovery.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

How to Spy on Alpha Centauri and Other Binary Stars to Hunt Exoplanets

Sarah Lewin,

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A new technique could allow scientists to photograph potentially life-supporting planets in nearby multistar systems, its developers say.

The most straightforward way to learn about alien planets is to look at them directly with a telescope, rather than relying on indirect methods such as noticing their effects on the stars they circle.


The nearest earth 

Seth Shostak, The Huffington Post

Fifty years ago, the idea that Alpha Centauri - which is the nearest star system to the Sun - might host a livable planet was, like the TV show itself, dubious fiction. But now a team of creative NASA scientists is designing a telescope to see if the world might actually exist. The team reckons they have a better-than-ever chance to find it.