Another Earth?

Not quite, but Alpha Centauri Bb is giving scientists hope.

Alpha Centauri, located in the star Centaurus,  is actually the closest star to our sun… well, technically it’s three stars, Alpha Centauri A, B, and C. From Earth, A and B appear as one bright star, and C is too dim to be seen with the naked eye. The star we’re focusing on is Alpha Centauri B, which is slightly smaller and only half as bright as our sun.

Researchers have just discovered a planet the same size as Earth orbiting B. As far as they can tell for now, the similarities end there. This planet’s orbit is much smaller than our own; it’s even closer to Alpha Centauri B than Mercury is to the sun. The result is a molten surface and a temperature of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. It also means a much shorter year, with the planet whizzing around the star every 3.2 days. With two suns nearby, Alpha Centauri Bb wouldn’t just have day and night, but day, night, and a strange twilight when it’s facing away from star B and toward the more distant sister star Alpha Centauri A

Clearly, this is no place for humans. But it could mean there are other planets not yet discovered orbiting star system, and since they’re our closest stellar neighbors, that’s  a big deal. It’s not plausible for astronauts to go looking for life circling the stars just yet – using our current rocket technology it would take 40,000 years to travel the 4.3 light-years there – but if and when we develop a means to travel at light-speed, Alpha Centauri is the closest stop.

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One response to “Another Earth?

  1. Pingback: Another Earth-like planet found | Scientific Chicago·

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