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Pale Red Dot Campaign Wins Guardian University Award

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The success of the Pale Red Dot campaign [1] was recognised in style last night when Queen Mary University of London, the institution that led the campaign [2], won the Research Impact category of the Guardian University Awards 2017. The Pale Red Dot campaign was an outreach [3] project set up to provide the public with a unique real-time view of how science is carried out. The scientific programme was aimed at identifying an Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The award marked the significant contribution made by the campaign to bringing cutting-edge science to a general audience.

The campaign was launched in January 2016, when observations of Proxima Centauri began, using ESO telescopes such as the HARPS spectrograph at La Silla in Chile, amongst others [4]. Their search lasted until April 2016, and was accompanied by blog posts and social media updates via Facebook and Twitter. The reports were accompanied by numerous outreach articles written by specialists around the world. Following the observations, the scientists analysed the data in the hope that they would find what they had been looking for. In August 2016, the discovery was announced: they had found an exoplanet!

Innovative outreach projects such as this continue to inspire and enthrall the public by bringing them closer to the excitement of making new discoveries and highlighting the scientific process.


[1] The name Pale Red Dot reflects Carl Sagan’s famous reference to the Earth as a pale blue dot. As Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star it will bathe its orbiting planet in a pale red glow.

[2] The team of astronomers leading the observations and outreach campaign are: Guillem Anglada-Escudé, Gavin Coleman, John Strachan (Queen Mary University of London, UK), James Jenkins  (Universidad de Chile, Chile), Cristina Rodriguez-Lopez, Zaira M. Berdinas, Pedro J. Amado (Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia/CSIC), Julien Morin (Universite de Montpellier, France), Mikko Tuomi (Centre for Astrophysics Research/University of Hertfordshire, UK), Yiannis Tsapras (Heidelberg/LCOGT, Astronomisches Rechen-Institut – Heidelberg & LCOGT) and Christopher J. Marvin (University of Goettingen).

[3] The outreach campaign was coordinated by the project team with support from the outreach departments of ESO, Queen Mary University of London, Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia/CSIC, Universite de Montpellier, University of Goettingen, Universidad de Chile and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network.

[4] Besides data from the Pale Red Dot campaign, contributions were made from scientists who have been observing Proxima Centauri for many years. These include members of the original UVES/ESO M-dwarf programme (Martin Kürster and Michael Endl), and exoplanet search pioneers such as R. Paul Butler. Public observations from the HARPS/Geneva team obtained over many years were also included.

More information:

This research is presented in a paper entitled “A terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit around Proxima Centauri”, by G. Anglada-Escudé et al., which appeared in the journal Nature on 25 August 2016.

Courtesy of European Southern Observatory


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