Researchers announced today that they’ve discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star system Alpha Centauri, our closest stellar neighbour. They found the planet, which is barely bigger than Earth, by analysing slight fluctuations in the movement of the star system using telescopes at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The analysis will be published tomorrow, Oct. 17, in the journal Nature.
The planet gives a little tug to the star it’s orbiting, which the researchers can see even though it’s tiny.
Photo: ESO/L. Calçada
SEE ALSO: Everything You Need To Know About Alpha Centauri >
Sadly, the planet is so close to its star (even closer than Mercury is to our sun — its year only takes three days) that it’s likely just a hot chuck of rock, incapable of sustaining life. But, there’s still hope that this system could have other planets around it, the researchers said.
“This is the first planet with a mass similar to Earth ever found around a star like the Sun. Its orbit is very close to its star and it must be much too hot for life as we know it,” study researcher Stéphane Udry, of Geneva Observatory, said in a statement. “But it may well be just one planet in a system of several.”
The Alpha Centauri star system is visible as the third-brightest star in our sky, and is located 4.37 light-years from the sun. That means, if we were to travel at or near the speed of light, it would take less than five years to reach the star system. Sadly, we aren’t even close to that — even the fastest moving probes sent from Earth would take 20,000 years to get to Alpha Centauri.
“This result represents a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the Sun. We live in exciting times!” study researcher Xavier Dumusque said in a statement.
Hundreds of exoplanets have been found since 1995, 750 of which are confirmed and 2,300 more still need to be reviewed. These are usually much larger than earth, and much further away than Alpha Centauri.
Researchers are hopeful that the the incredibly precise method used in this study could reveal super-Earths located in the habitable zone (where liquid water could be present) of this star system or other nearby sun-like stars.
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