- (Photo: AP Photo / Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation)
Astronomers in Europe have found a planet that is similar to Earth in a neighboring solar system within the Milky Way galaxy, the closest such planet ever to be discovered.
The news of the recent discovery was published Tuesday in the journal Nature's online edition. For some time there has been an intense competition between astronomers on both sides of the Atlantic to find a planet that is most like Earth outside of our solar system.
To date, according to researchers, there have been 842 exoplanets found; planets that are outside of our solar system, but many scientists think that there could potentially be billions.
The new planet is currently located at the other end of our galaxy, some 25 trillion miles away and in a solar system that contains three stars.
The planet circles the star known as Alpha Centauri B, but scientists caution that it is just too hot on the surface to support life. Scientists estimate that the surface is molten lava and travels around the star every few days. The other two stars Alpha Centauri A and Proxima Centauri make up a solar system with three stars which astronomers say is more common than the single star system that Earth is in.
Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory was the leading researcher on the European team and was very excited over the discovery explaining that "there's a very good prospect of detecting a planet in the habitable zone that is very close to us," according to AP.
The new discovery was not lost on competitors either who understood the significance of finding a new plant so close to home.
Geoff Marcy of the University of California Berkeley noted that this new discovery increase the chances of finding a planet in the habitable zone.
"This is an historic discovery," Marcy wrote in an email obtained by AP. "There could well be an Earth-size planet in that Goldilocks sweet spot, not too cold and not too hot, making Alpha Centauri a compelling target to search for intelligent life."