Earth-sized planet found just outside solar system

This artist’s impression made available by the European Southern Observatory on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 shows a planet, right, orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, center, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Alpha Centauri A is at left. The Earth's Sun is visible at upper right.
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One astronomer who wasn't part of the research team, wondered in a companion article in Nature if the team had enough evidence to back such an extraordinary claim. But other astronomers said they had no doubt and Udry said the team calculated that there was only a 1-in-1,000 chance that they were wrong about the planet and that something else was causing the signal they saw.

Finding such a planet close by required a significant stroke of good luck, said University of California Santa Cruz astronomer Greg Laughlin.

Dumusque described what it might be like on this odd and still unnamed hot planet. Its closest star is so near that it would always hang huge in the sky. And whichever side of the planet faced the star would be broiling hot, with the other side icy cold.

Because of the mass of the planet, it's likely a rocky surface like Earth, Dumusque said. But the rocks would be "more like lava, like a lava planet."

"If there are any inhabitants there, they're made of asbestos," joked Shostak.

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Online:

Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature

European Southern Observatory: http://www.eso.org/public/

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Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

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