After diligent (and very well-tuned!) work scientists determined that the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, has a planet. While it’s certainly not likely to be a popular vacation spot, the significance of this discovery is far more than just a neat little science story:
…don’t start building the colony ship just yet. With a 3.3 day orbit, the planet is only 0.04 Astronomical Units (1 AU is the typical distance from the Earth to the Sun). That makes this planet blazingly hot, at about 1,500 Kelvin. One of its discoverers indicated this would ensure the surface is “not solid, more like lava.” The radial velocity method lets you estimate the lower bound on the mass of the planet. Assuming it’s orbiting roughly in a plane that faces edge-on to Earth, it has a mass roughly equivalent to our home planet.
The significance of this is striking: planets within our known universe could very well be as common as leaves within a forest, thus tremendously raising the odds of our finding other habitable planets. Whether or not our DNA would be acceptable on other planets remains to be seen, but let’s take it one step at a time,…
In the meantime, bizarre notions of ‘Star Trek’, ‘Babylon 5’ or other popular space shows are now coming to the fore. Considering how a number of predictions have come true – personal communications, advanced computers, powerful networks, etc. – it’s not too far fetched to state that we could see, within our lifetimes, the beginnings of actual interstellar travel. As posted perviously on this blog, we discussed notions of hyperdrive as something that is far more realistic to attain then many realized. As one scientist opined:
What about visiting? Laughlin estimates that, given our current technologies, any probe we sent wouldn’t arrive for about 40,000 years. So that’s probably a no-go, “given our propensity for instant gratification.” But there are some unproven propulsion ideas that could get us there much more quickly, and Laughlin said that, should this find ignite enough interest, we may look into those more seriously.
Given the way things are going here on Earth – global warming, rising population and depletion of resources, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to think about taking the next big step and moving upward – and outward,….
For more on this, check out this link: http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/10/exoplanet-found-right-next-door-in-alpha-centauri/