Proxima Centauri is an M dwarf approximately 15,000 au from the Alpha Centauri binary, comoving and likely in a loosely bound orbit. Dynamic simulations show that this configuration can form from a more tightly bound triple system. As our nearest neighbors, these stars command great interest as potential planet hosts, and the dynamics of the stars govern the formation of any planets within the system. Here we present a scenario for the evolution of Alpha Centauri A and B and Proxima Centauri as a triple system. Based on N-body simulations, we determine that this pathway to formation is plausible, and we quantify the implications for planet formation in the Alpha Centauri binary. We expect that this formation scenario may have truncated the circumstellar disk slightly more than a system that formed in the current configuration, but that it most likely does not prevent terrestrial planet formation. We simulate planet formation in this system and find that, in most scenarios, two or more terrestrial planets can be expected around either Alpha Centauri A or B, orbiting in a region out to approximately 2 au, assuming that planetesimals and planetary embryos are able to form in the system first. Additionally, terrestrial planet formation and stability in Proxima Centauri's habitable zone are also plausible. However, an absence of planets around these stars may be indicative of highly disruptive stellar dynamics in the past.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science