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Planet discovered in Alpha Centauri system

Posted on Wednesday, 17 October, 2012 | Comment icon 30 comments | News tip by: Waspie_Dwarf

Image credit: ESO

Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized world in orbit around the next nearest star system to our own.

The small rocky planet is the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a Sun-like star, it is also the nearest at just 4.3 light years. The Alpha Centauri system has long intrigued astronomers as it is the closest to us and is likely to be our first interstellar destination when future space-faring technology permits us to travel beyond the confines of our own solar system.

"Our observations extended over more than four years using the HARPS instrument and have revealed a tiny, but real, signal from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B every 3.2 days," said lead author Xavier Dumusque. "Itís an extraordinary discovery and it has pushed our technique to the limit!"

"European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system - the nearest to Earth."

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #21 Posted by Harte on 18 October, 2012, 16:04
I'm surprised it's even there at all. With two main stars and a third associated, the system wouldn't exhibit a large number of stable orbits regarding objects of planetary mass. Harte
Comment icon #22 Posted by bison on 18 October, 2012, 21:27
No one caught my error, I see. The Allen Telescope Array is too far North for Alpha Centauri to be visible to it. The SETI Institute is presumably considering the use of another radio telescope, farther South, to examine Alpha Centauri. It lies at almost 61 degrees South celestial latitude.
Comment icon #23 Posted by DieChecker on 19 October, 2012, 6:36
Didn't it used to be that binary (not to mention trinary) star systems had zero chance of planets. Isn't that built into the Drake Equation? Is the Drake Equation due for an overhaul??
Comment icon #24 Posted by Taun on 19 October, 2012, 11:14
Odd isn't it?... I know exactly where the Centauri system is - how far, which direction and how it is placed in relation to our system (I even have it plotted on an X,Y,Z grid map of all other stars within 30 light years).... but I have no idea where the Allen Telescope is....
Comment icon #25 Posted by bison on 19 October, 2012, 13:09
Alpha Centauri is a trinary system. It used to be thought that multiple star systems were unlikely to allow stable planet orbits. Our observations of extrasolar planets in such systems has taught us otherwise. The thinking now is that 50 or 60 percent of them *do* offer such orbits. The Allen Telescope array is in Northern California, at about 40 degrees North latitude, not near any sizable town, by design, to avoid terrestrial radio interference with its receivers.
Comment icon #26 Posted by Harte on 19 October, 2012, 14:46
Last I checked, which was decades ago, nobody had solved the "three-body problem" for significant masses. Harte
Comment icon #27 Posted by Magiclass on 19 October, 2012, 15:25
It would be arrogant to think that this planet was the only one of it's kind in the universe.
Comment icon #28 Posted by Harte on 19 October, 2012, 17:36
I agree. After all, there's Hyrule to consider. Harte
Comment icon #29 Posted by bison on 19 October, 2012, 18:40
Brian Vastag, science writer for the Washington Post, confirms that Dr. Seth Shostak told him that the SETI Institute would probably scan Alpha Centauri, on the basis of the newly announced planet discovery. The Parkes radio telescope in Australia seems a good candidate for this project. The SETI Institute has worked cooperatively with Parkes in the past. At a distance of only about four light years, it might be possible to detect an unintentional signal, such as a space craft and/or asteroid monitoring radar.
Comment icon #30 Posted by Abramelin on 19 October, 2012, 19:05
Cool find, I just "knew" it was bound to happen :

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