Researchers announced today that they’ve discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting our nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Centauri.The planet is too close to the sun to have liquid water, and therefore wouldn’t be habitable by humans. But, the researchers think it’s likely that the system contains other planets, possibly a super-sized Earth-like planet in the stars’ habitable zone.
Here’s what you need to know about this star system. You never know, it might be humanity’s next home.
The star system is the third brightest star in the night sky when seen from Earth. It is 4.37 light-years from the sun.
At the centre of this solar system there are two sun-like stars that orbit around a common centre. Sunset from a planet orbiting this double-star system might be similar to that on the planet Tatooine in Star Wars.
A third star, known as Proxima Centauri, orbits these two stars from the outer reaches of their solar system. Researchers think that it interacts with the rest of the Centauri system, but they aren't sure.
To compare it with our solar system, Proxima Centauri would be 400 times further away from these stars than Neptune is from our sun.
The twin stars orbit each other every 80 years. During that time, the distance between them varies from about that between Pluto and the Sun to that between Saturn and the Sun.
The Centauri stars are so close to us that researchers have been able to see Alpha Centauri B send off solar flares.
Researchers think that Alpha Centauri A and B formed 4.85 billion years ago, about 250 million years before the sun.
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