Analysis by Ian O’Neill
Thu Oct 18, 2012 07:15 AM ET

A little exoplanet living in a neighboring star system has caused a very big stir this week.

It may be too hot for life to survive on its surface, but the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B has ignited hope that the star — one of two that orbit one another as a binary pair — could play host to a whole system of rocky worlds.

The very fact that scientists using the European High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) telescope could detect the tiny gravitational tug of the orbiting world on its parent star is amazing enough, but the ramifications for the future of mankind have the potential to be nothing less than historic.

“The discovery of an Earth-sized world that is so close to us, when measured in interstellar distance scales, means that when we select target solar systems for exploration, we may not have to choose systems that are prohibitively far from our own solar system,” said Richard Obousy, co-founder and president of Icarus Interstellar Inc.

Icarus Interstellar is a project to realize the possibility of sending an unmanned probe to another star system within the next century. Interstellar distances are, currently, prohibitively vast, so it’s desirable to look for new worlds to explore that are located in our cosmic backyard. Now, astronomers have discovered evidence of an Earth-sized world located on our proverbial cosmic doorstep.

Read more: An Interstellar Mission to Alpha Centauri Bb? : Discovery News.

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