Unfortunately, the similarities end there. This rocky orb is the same size as our own home planet, but the orbit is much, much different, placing the planet 25 times closer to its sun than we are to our own.
The University of Geneva set out to find this planet using HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher. The name comes straight out of a comic book, and so does the discovery.
The planet’s sun, Alpha Centauri B, is just a little bit smaller and cooler than ours. A year on the planet lasts just over 3 Earth days, and the planet’s closeness to the sun renders it essentially a piece of baked rock and glass with temperatures averaging 1,200 Celsius.
Greg Laughlin at the University of California, Santa Cruz, calls the planet “uninhabitable” and completely un-Earth like.
This is the part where most of our readers are asking: so what’s the big deal, then? A burnt rock light years away, big whoop, right? However, the presence of this planet actually suggests that there might be more Earth sized, and much more Earth like planets within the same stellar system.
This theory comes thanks to NASA’s Keplar spacecraft. Launched to collect data on systems hundreds of light years away, Keplar has found similarities between systems with multiple planets, especially in instances involving rocky planets. In other words, we’re not just looking for the sighting of a planet that matches Earth, we’re looking for stellar systems that bear notable similarities to the Milky Way, as this search may well yield a true Earth-2.
The rocky planet is fascinating from an astronomical perspective, but clearly the big headlines are reserved for the eventual discovery of a planet that we could simply move to if we wanted, and yet, such a discovery may still be some time away.
One of the challenges in searching for planets circling Alpha Centauri B’s neighbor Alpha Centauri A is that A is so incredibly bright and lively that it is difficult to spot planets circling the star, let alone investigate them for the ability to sustain life as we know it.
With the discovery of arsenic-based life on Earth, the search for extraterrestrial life might not need to focus on water, carbon or other components that make human life possible. Nevertheless, all of those components are quite important for a true Earth-2, a planet that could sustain Earth’s dominant lifeforms.
The discovery will be helpful in clarifying how planets form and set into orbit which will further help in the search for an inhabitable second Earth.
While space exploration is rarely as dramatic or as headline grabbing as it was the first time we put a man on the moon, the fact remains that there’s still a lot of exciting stuff happening in space exploration.