Image Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, Aladin Sky Atlas

This is Kapteyn b (well, an artistic representation, but that's not the point).

This planet is extremely interesting for several reasons. First, it's old. Very old, actually. In fact, it's about 11.5-billion years old. That makes the planet nearly three times older than Earth, or to envision it another way, the universe itself is only about 2-billion years older than this planet - either works.

Consider for a moment just how far life has come on our planet in just 4.5-billion years. Then, see if your imagination will allow you to contemplate how much further along the evolutionary ladder any form of life might be compared to us if it flickered into existence on a planet as old as Kapteyn b.

Needless to say, any creatures dwelling in this planetary system has the potential to be some of the oldest, most evolved life found anywhere in the universe.

Image Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, Aladin Sky Atlas

The Habitable Zone:

Kapteyn b - a "super-Earth," weighing in at about 5 times the mass of our blue marble - is thought to orbit in the habitable zone of its red dwarf star. Because red dwarfs are much cooler, smaller and fully convectional, they, generally speaking, live far longer than stars of other spectral types; sometimes lasting for trillions of years. Understandably, the extended life-span of a red dwarf extinguishes one of the largest threats all species must eventually face; being gobbled up by the star that it relies on for sustenance.

Moreover, it doesn't hurt that red dwarfs are the most numerous kind of star by a long shot. They also aren't as volatile as larger stars, though they face their own unique set of challenges. For starters, any planet found within close proximity of their parent star might wind up being tidally locked (like the moon is to Earth), meaning the planet only shows one face to its sun. As a consequence, half of the planet might be blistering hot, while the other half might be extremely cold. An appreciable atmosphere might direct some of the warmth to the cold side, but there's always the possibility that the atmosphere might be stripped away by solar winds.

All are things that could put a damper on the evolution of life, but none are unmanageable.

There's More:

One of the most exciting things about this planet is its distance from Earth. It's only 13 light-years away. In cosmic terms, 13 light-years is so close that it's practically in the "other room" in your house (it's only a 26-year round trip at the speed of light). The Kapteyn star system is located in the southern constellation Pictor and can be easily seen with amateur telescopes (the star can be seen with ease. The planet, on the other hand, takes much more effort). For those interested, Kapteyn b has an orbital period of 48 days.

Finally, the last point of interest is where Kapteyn came from. It's from a dwarf galaxy that collided with the Milky way quite some time ago. The remnants of this dwarf galaxy can be seen today as the Omega Centauri globular cluster, which is located about 16,000 light-years away and is the same age as the Kapteyn system.

Having a planet this old so close to Earth gives astronomers an important insight into the way planets formed in the early universe as well as data regarding the long term viability of planetary systems. Plus, lets not forget that intelligent life could live right next door; and we could totally visit.

Kayteyn's Location using Stellarium

 


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