An Earth-like planet has been found right outside of our solar system.
The planet, similar to Earth in size and distance from its sun, was discovered by astronomers from the European Southern Observatory. The ESO’s findings were published in Nature. While 25 trillion miles may seem like a tremendously long distance, it’s practically a space neighbor, according to astronomers.
Alpha Centauri is just 4.3 light years away and can be seen without using a telescope from certain locations on Earth. The astronomers used HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) on a 3.6 meter long telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile to make the discovery.
The discovery is four years in the making. The astronomers, led by Xavier Dumusque from the Geneva Observatory, observed the subtle changes in planets' orbits in order to detect the planet which has a mass 1.1 times Earth's.
The planet is located in the Alpha Centauri B star system. While it is Earth-like in regards to size, it’s too hot for any life to be sustained. The planet circles its sun every 3.2 days and temperatures can reach up to 2,200 degrees. Its orbit is closer around the sun is closer than Mercury’s and the surface may be molten lava.
Despite this, astronomers are optimistic because there may be other planets, similar in size to this discovered planet, that may be “just right” for life.
Astronomers do have a sense of humor and when looking for life on other planets, they are looking for the “Goldilocks” of planets. That is, astronomers are looking for a planet that is not too hot or too cold for life. Co-author Stéphane Udry, of the Geneva Observatory, said in a statement “it may well be just one planet in a system of several. Our other HARPS results, and new findings from Kepler, both show clearly that the majority of low-mass planets are found in such systems.”
This discovery is rather extraordinary. As Dumsque states, “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!”
Astronomer David Charbonneau, speaking to The Associated Press, simply said “Wow.”