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Newfound Earth-sized planet too distant to visit

The exploration of the planet known as Alpha Centauri Bb will require technology not currently in existence, say researchers. But if it has sibling planets in a 'habitable zone' scientists may be encouraged to develop the new technology required to such explore new and distant worlds. 

Image

This artist's concept shows the newfound alien planet Alpha Centauri Bb, found in a three-star system just 4.3 light-years from Earth.

ESO/L. Calçada

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Astronomers have discovered an alien planet right in our solar system's backyard, but residents of Earth shouldn't get their hopes up for an exploration mission anytime soon. The newfound world is much too far away for probes to visit using current technology, experts say.

Researchers announced Tuesday (Oct. 16) that the scorching-hot alien planet Alpha Centauri Bb, which is about as massive as Earth, resides in the three-star Alpha Centauri system. While no other star is closer to our sun than the Alpha Centauri trio, they're still about 4.3 light-years away, making a close-up look at the planet pretty much impossible right now.

A robotic exoplanet mission launching today "would require about 40,000 years to get to Alpha Centauri," Greg Laughlin, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told reporters Tuesday. "So, given our propensity for instant gratification, that's not really an option that's on the table."

But Laughlin, who was not involved in the discovery, added that attitudes could change if researchers made a few more intriguing discoveries in the Alpha Centauri system.

25 trillion miles away

One light-year is about 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers). So the three stars in Alpha Centauri are more than 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km) from Earth. [Gallery: Nearby Alien Planet Alpha Centauri Bb]

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