So here’s the backstory: NASA recently announced the discovery of Alpha Centauri Bb, an Earth-sized exoplanet that’s right next door, cosmically speaking. It’s a low-mass planet, and the star it orbits is relatively sun-like — just like home! So when do we get to go visit?
But we may have gotten a little ahead of ourselves. Did we mention that Alpha Centauri Bb has a surface temperature of around 1,230 degrees Celsius? And that its planetary year is a dizzyingly fast 3.2 days? And that it’s extremely rocky? Never fear, says Johns Hopkins APL planetary scientist Ralph McNutt, who says that there may well be another, more habitable Earth-twin in the cosmic neighborhood. McNutt got buckets of money from NASA to develop an “innovative interstellar explorer,” whose launch window opens exactly two years from yesterday.
But don’t start packing your bags yet; as Nature says, “Even when launched by one of the most powerful rockets on Earth, boosted by a gravitational slingshot around Jupiter, and further accelerated by a radioisotope thruster, that probe would take about 28,000 years to reach α Centauri.”