A planet with a mass similar to Earth has been discovered in Alpha Centauri System, just right outside our Solar System. What makes this planet stand out among hundreds of exoplanets previously discovered?
Here are 10 Things You Need to Know about Alpha Centauri and this Neighboring Planet:
10. Alpha Centauri is composed of three stars: Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B and Proxima Centauri, which is shining close to the Sun, the star at the center of the Solar System.
9. Alpha Centauri is a complicated system because its stars orbit one another. Further studies were made to confirm whether the orbiting body is indeed a planet.
8. Alpha Centauri is only 4.3 light years away from Earth.
7. The recently discovered unnamed planet in the Alpha Centauri System has the same mass as Earth. It is the nearest planet to Earth compared to other planets - 840 so far - discovered in the past.
6. In contrast to Mercury's distance to the sun during orbit, the newly-discovered planet is closer to the star it orbits, suggesting extreme temperature on the surface -- about 1,500C, according to scientists.
5. The neighbor planet was found near Alpha Centauri B, six million kilometers away.
4. The Harps instrument spotted the planet from the European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile.
3. Four years of observation revealed the planet orbits Alpha Centauri B in just 3.2 to 3.6 days, a far contrast to earth's 365 days.
2. Normally, more planets are discovered once a planet and its star have been properly identified. "The prospects are excellent for finding further planets in this system. Everything we know indicates that when you find one planet like this you're very likely to find additional planets further out, so it's very exciting in terms of looking forward to further detection," Greg Laughlin of the University of California at Santa Cruz told The Guardian.
1. The Alpha Centauri planet discovery is ordinary-but-promising in space exploration. "Even if the discovery just stands perfectly normal in the discoveries we have had up to now, it's a landmark discovery, because it's very low-mass and it's our closest neighbor," Stéphane Udry of Switzerland's Geneva Observatory told BBC.
The universe is expanding, so this neighbor planet could be much farther away from Earth in tens or hundreds of millions of years' time. Could the newly located planet be Earth-like eventually?
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