Scientific discoveries take time. They have to be confirmed by other scientists. That can come through new observations, a dive into old ones, or a combination of the two.
An example of the “combo” approach is the discovery of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our own solar system.
Astronomers had already confirmed one planet in the system, called Proxima Centauri b. It’s about the size of Earth, and it’s in the region where conditions are most comfortable for life.
Early this year, a team led by Mario Damasso in Italy reported the discovery of a possible second planet. Their work indicated that Proxima Centauri c is heavier than Earth. And it’s so far from the star that it probably would be an iceball.
A few months later, another team reported snapping possible pictures of the planet, which might have rings.
And in June, Fritz Benedict of McDonald Observatory added more details. He looked at observations that he and colleagues had made with Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990s. They were looking for planets in closer orbits, but didn’t find any. When he looked again, though, he found evidence of planet “c.”
When he combined the observations of all the teams, Benedict came up with a planetary mass of roughly seven times that of Earth, and an orbital period of about five and a half years.
Other teams continue to study the system to tease out details about this and other possible planets around our close neighbor.
Script by Damond Benningfield