Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pandora Found!

Okay, it's not eactly Pandora (Avatar, not Borderlands), but this is still awesome.  Yesterday astronomers at the European Southern Observatory announced they had found a planet slightly larger than Earth.  While that's cool by itself, the nerd in me squealed in delight because the planet is orbiting Alpha Centari B, which is a member of the star system closest to our own. 

An artist's impression of Alpha Centauri Bb from the ESO press release

Sure, the planet is only four million miles from its star, making it far too hot for life...but it's only 4.3 light years away from us!  That's tantalizingly close.  If a planet like that can exist in our backyard, who knows what else might be out there.  At this rate, it's only a matter of time until we start locating potential habital worlds.  Sure, our current technology can't get there in any reasonable length of time, but with a little investment, and the motivation that likely exploration targets could generate, you never know.  I'll admit, I yearn to live long enough to see the first close-up images of a planet outside our solar system with life, intelligent or not (most likely not).

Between Kepler's findings, the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars, and now this, it's been an exciting couple of years for astronomy.  I can't wait to see what we find next!

You can find the press release here and some great analysis from Phil Plait here.

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