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Earth-Size Planet in Habitable Zone of Nearest Star!

The headline says it all, because the news is we really do have a Rocky Planet (as opposed to a Gas Giant) that is only a touch more than 4 light years away, according to the ESO who made the discovery, the ESA, and NASA. It is in the Goldilocks Zone of its star Proxima Centauri, and about 1.3 times the mass of Earth. The size and mass of the planet as well as the age of the star it orbits means it at least started out with the majority of the same elements that make up the Earth. The Goldilocks Zone orbit means water would be a liquid at most places on its surface, although the fact that Proxima Centauri is a Red Dwarf makes it likely that any near-Earth planet that close would be in tidal lock-down, with a single side always facing the star. That kind of thing tends to boil off an atmosphere on the hot side, and have it fall as snow on the cold side, not terribly conductive to life (or keeping your atmosphere). The good news is Proxima Centauri is the smallest and most distanced member of a triple star system known as Alpha Centauri; since the planet is not orbiting the central duo of the set, it runs a much smaller risk of being pulled apart into an asteroid belt over the next few eons.

So yes, this is one of those good news/bad news kind of things. The good news is that our nearest stellar neighbor has a planet which could evolve life, if all the other details work out. The bad news is that the odds are good it doesn’t have life more complex than viruses because of the orbital mechanics. The REALLY good news is the implication this discovery makes obvious; for us to find a planet in the Goldilocks Zone of our nearest stellar neighbor, such combinations must be a lot more likely than we ever thought possible. Just to keep me from jumping off the deep edge, let’s take a look at what SETI had to say about what we might find there just last November…

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