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October 19 2012

The exoplanet next door


It is a world so close that E.T. could phone home in just four years. Astronomers have discovered the lowest-mass planet yet orbiting a Sun-like star. It orbits alpha Centauri B, a member of the stellar system that is our Solar Systemís nearest neighbour. Although nearly identical to Earth in mass, the planet is much closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun, meaning that it is a scorched and barren rock. Nevertheless, its astronomical proximity to Earth will undoubtedly stir dreams of interstellar exploration, particularly as astronomers search alpha Centauri for more hospitable worlds.

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