Astronomers are reeling over the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, a member of the closest star system to Earth. Only 4.3 light years away, the Alpha Centauri system has long been the subject of science fiction stories and at least since the 19th-century, scientists have considered the three-stars there to be the closest possible location for extraterrestrial life. Unfortunately, they probably won't find it on this planet.
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The newly discovered planet is similar to Earth in size and, well, shape. But that's about it. Discovered by European scientists at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, the planet is pretty close to Alpha Centauri B -- it's about 4 million miles away where as Earth is 93 million miles away from the Sun -- so its orbit is about 25 times smaller than Earth's. A year passes on there in just 3.2 days. The close distance also means it's rather hot. It's actually really hot, like 2,200-degrees Fahrenheit hot. Scientists suspect that the planet's entire surface could be covered in molten lava. So unless there's such a thing as Alpha Centaurine volcano creatures, it's unlikely that the planet is home to alien life, though not entirely out of the question.
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If anything, this latest discovery gives astronomers hope that their search for life-supporting planets beyond our own is not entirely in vain. "Finding in our closest neighbor a one-Earth-mass planet really opens up the prospect for finding planets there in the habitable zone," said Stephane Udry, an astronomer at the University of Geneva who co-authored the paper about the research that appeared in Nature on Tuesday. They've also discovered evidence of a number of other planets in the Alpha Centauri system, some of which might actually be far enough away from the stars to support life.
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All things considered, this is an exciting day for astronomers everywhere. Following the news, SETI started scanning the skies around Alpha Centauri to see if there are any radio signals they might've missed. We doubt they'll find any Transformers up there, but we do wish them luck.
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