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Alpha Centauri A (L) and Alpha Centauri B seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA

A planet about the size of Neptune could be lurking in the habitable zone of one of our nearest stars, Alpha Centauri A, according to a new study.

Why it matters: It's an exciting hint that potentially habitable alien worlds could be just a few light-years away.

What they found: The possible planet was discovered using about 100 hours of telescope time that allowed scientists to directly image the habitable zones — the orbits around a star where water could exist on a planet's surface — of the two Sun-like stars in the Alpha Centauri system.

  • The system is only 4.37 light-years from Earth, and this marks the first time the habitable zones of Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B have been directly imaged.
  • Until now, habitable zone planets had not been found around either of those stars, but another star in the system, Proxima Centauri — a red dwarf star smaller than the Sun — appears to host to a possible planet in its habitable zone.
“We were amazed to find a signal in our data. While the detection meets every criteria for what a planet would look like, alternative explanations – such as dust orbiting within in the habitable zone or simply an instrumental artifact of unknown origin – have to be ruled out.”
— Kevin Wagner, an author of the new study in Nature Communications, said in a statement

The big picture: Scientists usually find planets by detecting the small dips in a star's light created when a world passes in front of its star from Earth's perspective.

  • Researchers are also able to detect the tiny wobbles of a star created by the slight tug of a planet's gravity as it orbits.
  • Direct imaging, on the other hand, allows astronomers to potentially learn more about a planet's atmosphere, composition and size.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."

Cedric Richmond: We won't wait on GOP for "insufficient" stimulus

Top Biden adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" the White House believes it has bipartisan support for a stimulus bill outside the Beltway.

  • "If our choice is to wait and go bipartisan with an insufficient package, we are not going to do that."

The big picture: The bill will likely undergo an overhaul in the Senate after House Democrats narrowly passed a stimulus bill this weekend, reports Axios' Kadia Goba.

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