Earth’s Nearest Planetary Neighbour Discovered

Image Credit: Martin Ti

Since astronomers discovered the first exoplanet in 1992, which was bizarrely named PSR 1257 +12, a further 841 have been added to the list with new discoveries becoming quite a regular occurrence.

However, the latest exoplanet has caused much more interest than most, not least because it is located in the Alpha Centauri system, our nearest neighbour 4.3 light-years away from our own sun. Unfortunately, though, it is believed to be tidally locked to its sun, Alpha Centauri B, which it orbits every 3.2 Earth days, meaning one side of the planet will be scorched constantly by stellar radiation, while the other is subjected to the freezing darkness of space. As such, life is presumably, highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, the finding further expands our understanding of humans place in the universe, as well as our quest to discovery habitable worlds. As Stéphane Udry from the Geneva Observatory, explains: “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, but it may well be just one planet in a system of several.”

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