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Rare Star Alignment May Help Find Alien Life

In 1987, six of the eight planets plus the Sun and Moon formed a grand trine (an alignment that formed the apexes of an equilateral triangle when viewed from the Earth) which was supposed to cause a ‘Harmonic Convergence’ (an event predicted by the Mayan calendar) that would shift the world from war to peace (yeah, that happened). Astronomers are getting a second chance at predicting the benefits of a new and unusual star alignment which many are saying will give us the best chance ever at finding alien life on other planets. The Mayans didn’t have anything to say about this but Albert Einstein did. Does that improve the chances of success of this new stellar convergence?

Before you start popping popcorn and fighting for a good seat in front of the family telescope, this event won’t happen until 2028. That’s when the European Space Observatory (ESO) recently predicted that Alpha Centauri A will align with the red giant S5 to create an ‘Einstein Ring’ – a ‘gravitational lensing event’ predicted by Albert’s General Theory of Relativity. Then what? Here’s the ESO prediction:

This would provide a unique opportunity to look for planetary or low-mass objects in our nearest star system.

The predicted trajectory of Alpha Centauri A (orange) and B (red), superimposed onto an image taken with the SOFI instrument on ESO’s New Technology Telescope (NTT) and the NACO instrument on the VLT. It shows the conjunction with the star S5 (the brightest star in the NACO image). In the background a Digitised Sky Survey 2 image is shown.

The predicted trajectory (box) of Alpha Centauri A (orange) and B (red), showing the conjunction with the star S5 over a larger image of the stars.

They will especially be looking for planets in the so-called ‘Goldilocks zone’ where the temperature, atmosphere and water content are just right for supporting life. Planets like the recently discovered and potentially habitable Proxima B – which orbits Alpha Centauri A’s fellow star, Alpha Proxima – will become much more visible because of the gravitational lensing of this Einstein ring.

proxima-b

The Einstein ring moved ahead of the Mayan calendar in predicting power earlier this year when it was used to prove the existence of a low-mass, dim dwarf galaxy made of dark matter that was hidden behind another bigger galaxy.

An Einstein ring

An Einstein ring

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until 2028 for this unique gravitational lensing event to occur. This new star line-up probably won’t bring world peace or even faster Internet speeds or a better frozen pizza, but will it find alien life?

Would you bet against Albert Einstein?

einstein_laughing