Alpha Centauri is our nearest star system at a distance of 4.37 light-years. It consists of three stars: the pair Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B and a small and faint red dwarf, Proxima Centauri. Red dwarfs form like other main-sequence stars. A cloud of dust and gas is drawn together by gravity and begins rotating. The material clumps at the center, and when it reaches the critical temperature, fusion begins. But they are very dim, consume less fuel and have extraordinarily long life (far greater than the current age of the universe). Red dwarfs are the most common form of stars in our galaxy and they are so dim that they are not visible with naked eyes from our planet. Proxima B is an earth sized planet revolving around the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.
Let us chek out the feasibility of life and possibility to probe this planet.
1The problem of the red dwarfs
Planets in the habitable zone of a red dwarf would be so close to the parent star that they would likely be tidally locked. This would mean that one side would be always in daylight and the other in the eternal night. This could create enormous temperature variations from one side of the planet to the other. Such conditions would appear to make it difficult for forms of life similar to those on Earth to evolve. Recent theories propose that either a thick atmosphere or planetary ocean could potentially circulate heat around such a planet and make life feasible. Also, a moon orbiting such planet may be habitable. It would circumvent the tidal lock problem with its star by becoming tidally locked to its planet. In this manner, there would be a day/night cycle on the moon.
An additional difficulty is that red dwarfs radiate most of their electromagnetic energy as infrared light, whereas plants on Earth capture most of their energy from the visible spectrum. Also, red dwarfs exhibit large variation in the stellar energy output. Red dwarfs are often covered by starspots, reducing stellar output by as much as 40% for months at a time. At other times, some red dwarfs, called flare stars, can emit gigantic flares, doubling their brightness in minutes. This variation may also make it difficult for life to develop and persist near a red dwarf.
2It will be very difficult to reach Proxima B
At a maximum velocity of 56,000 km/h, Deep Space 1 would take over 81,000 years to traverse the 4.24 light years between Earth and Proxima Centauri. To put that time-scale into perspective, that would be over 2,700 human generations. Travel to Proxima B is not feasible with current technology. There are theories for such travel like laser sail, warp drive, nuclear explosion etc, but all seems like a dream as of now.
3Details about the planet are still not available
Important details like the presence of an atmosphere, surrounding environment etc are still unknown.
4Breakthrough Starshot and Starchip
Breakthrough Starshot is a research and engineering project by Breakthrough Initiatives to develop a proof-of-concept fleet of light sail spacecraft, named StarChip. It will be capable of making the journey to the Alpha Centauri star system, 4.37 light-years away at speeds between 15% and 20% of the speed of light taking between 30 and 20 years to get there, respectively, and about 4 years to notify Earth of a successful arrival. The journey may include a flyby of Proxima Centauri B. The project was announced on 12 April 2016 at an event held in New York City by physicist and venture capitalist Yuri Milner and cosmologist Stephen Hawking who is serving as board member of the initiatives. Other board members include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.