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Air & Space

Earth-Size Planet Closest to Our Solar System: By The Numbers

  • alpha-centauri-surroundings

    This wide-field view of the sky around the bright star Alpha Centauri was created from photographic images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The star appears so big just because of the scattering of light by the telescope's optics as (alpha centauri, exoplanet, earth-sized planet, ESO, la silla observatory, chile, alpha centauri b, astronomy, exoplanets)

  • ACenPlan_Image

    European researchers have detected a planet – just slightly more massive than Earth – orbiting very close to Alpha Centauri B, a sun-like star only 4.3 light-years from our Sun. (ESA)

An alien planet discovered around a star in the Alpha Centauri system, the nearest to our own sun, has astronomers buzzing, and not just because it's the closest exoplanet to Earth ever seen.

The newfound extrasolar planet Alpha Centauri Bb, it turns out, is not only the nearest alien world to Earth, it's also extremely Earthlike in size and mass. The planet is much too hot and too close to its parent star to support life, but its existence suggests the tantalizing possibility that there may be more planets waiting to be found in our neighboring star system.

Here's a look at the numbers behind the newfound alien planet Alpha Centauri Bb:

25 trillion: The number of miles Alpha Centauri Bb is from Earth. That's about 40 trillion kilometers. Sound far? It's still the closest star system to our sun.

3.6 million: The distance, in miles, at which the planet orbits its parent star Alpha Centauri B. This is much closer to the star than Mercury is to our sun. Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km) from the sun.

40,000: The approximate number of years it would take an unmanned spacecraft like NASA's Voyager 1 probe now leaving our solar system to reach Alpha Centauri Bb. You'd need a lot of snacks for that trip.

2,240: The likely surface temperature in Fahrenheit (it's 1,227 degrees Celsius) for planet Alpha Centauri Bb. The planet is so hot, its surface is likely melted into a molten slag, making it a truly hellish "lava world." Bring your sunscreen.

800: The lower limit for confirmed alien planets scientists have discovered since the mid-1990s. There are thousands more awaiting confirmation.

4.3: The number of light-years Alpha Centauri Bb is from Earth. The star system is visible only from the Southern Hemisphere of our planet. (Sorry, northern stargazers!)

3.2: The number of Earth days it takes planet Alpha Centauri Bb to complete one "year" around its parent star. BONUS! 3 is also the number of stars in the Alpha Centauri system. There's Alpha Centauri A and B (the new planet's sun), and Proxima Centauri, which is actually slightly closer to Earth than the other two.

2: The number of sunlike stars in the Alpha Centauri system. The stars Alpha Centauri A and B are both similar to our sun and. Proxima Centauri is much fainter than Earth.

1.13: The mass of alien planet Alpha Centauri Bb as compared to that of Earth. It is the first Earth-mass planet around a sunlike star ever found, scientists say.