Until now, Earth has had many of the characteristic problems of an only child. We keep strange hours. We insist that we be the focal point of all gatherings. We drop our rovers everywhere and do not pick them up afterwards. We toss junk out into the far reaches of space without regard for who will have to pick it up.
They say that living alone too long has the potential to make you eccentric. (The New York Times once published an alarming trend piece along these lines.) Next thing you know, we’ll be eating pasta in the shower, leaving all the lights on, alarming our neighbors with our impressions of Chewbacca being told about binders of women, and developing the delusion that we look good in hats.
But now there is company. We have a neighbor.
A piece in Nature magazine reports that a small earth-size exoplanet is orbiting one of the three stars of Alpha Centauri — specifically, Alpha Centauri B. The planet itself is called Alpha Centauri Bb, or “Bb” to its friends. (That is why the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu refuses to hang out there. Also, because the planet, being closer to its star than Mercury is to ours, is covered in molten lava. Lava planets, as anyon e who has ever fought a climactic battle on one and lost half his limbs will tell you, are bad news.)
The Alpha Centauri system is the closest to our sun, practically next door in interstellar terms. Close, in interstellar terms, is still not quite walking distance. But we could actually get to this planet in a not-inconceivably-huge amount of time and hear back. This is hugely exciting! A neighbor! A neighbor covered in lava, but, still, a neighbor! There’s another house nearby, and it might not be the sort of thing we’d choose to live in, but it could be the first in a whole development!
Planets are often discovered in groups, like geese or people visiting the ladies’ room.
Get ready, Earth. Here goes the neighborhood.