Planet Spotted in Solar System Next-Door

But Earth-sized Alpha Centauri planet is too hot for life
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2012 12:22 AM CDT
Updated Oct 17, 2012 2:13 AM CDT
This artist’s impression shows a planet, right, orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, center, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth.    (AP Photo/ESO, L. Calcada)

(Newser) – Excited astronomers have spotted an Earth-sized planet as close as it is possible to find one outside our solar system. The rocky planet discovered by a European team circles one of the three stars in the Alpha Centauri system, the sun's nearest neighbor at just 4.4 light years away, reports the New York Times. The planet circling Alpha Centauri B is uninhabitable, with surface temperatures of around 1,200 degrees, but scientists say the discovery suggests that there are other planets in the system, possibly capable of supporting life.

"Very small planets are not rare," the new planet's discoverer says. "When you find one small planet, you find others." The Alpha Centauri system has long inspired science fiction, serving as the setting for the Transformers' homeworld and Avatar's planet Pandora, and the new discovery has led to renewed calls to send a probe there, despite the fact that it would take many centuries to get there, Wired reports. "I feel like we should drop everything and send a probe there to study the new planet and others that are likely in the system," an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says. (Read more Alpha Centauri stories.)

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