Earth-like planet -- sorta -- spotted in Alpha Centauri
European astronomers discover the closest-known exoplanet found so far, and it comes with a few surprises. Like, it's a little warmer than our planet.
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"This result represents a major step towards the detection of a twin Earth in the immediate vicinity of the sun," said Xavier Dumusque, who served as lead author of the planet-discovering study, in a release.
The out-of-this-world findings, published today in the journal Nature, indicate that the newly discovered planet contains a mass just a little bigger than Earth and completes a full orbit about every 3.2 days. Don't expect this planet to serve as an intergalactic pit stop in future travels -- Bb is closer to its host star than Mercury is to our own sun -- as it has an estimated surface temperature of at least 2,192 Fahrenheit.
Researchers first found the planet using the HARPS spectrograph on an 11.8-foot telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile by picking up "the tiny wobbles in the motion of the star Alpha Centauri B created by the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet," according to a press release. These wobbles, the most precise ever detected and caused by Bb's gravitational pull, move the star back and forth about 20 inches a second.
"This is the first planet with a mass similar to Earth ever found around a star like the Sun," said Stephane Udry, who served as a co-author of the related paper. "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."