'A new home for the human race'
An Earth-sized planet discovered this week could provide a new home for the human race when our own sun dies.
That's the view of Sky at Night presenter and University of Leicester professor Paul Abel.
The new planet, called Centauri Bb, was discovered this week by astronomers at the European Southern Observatory, in Chile.
It is six million kilometres from Alpha Centauri, the closest star-system to Earth at 4.3 light years away.
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Dr Abel said: "This planet is special and I hope will provide a new sense of urgency for human space flight."
He said science fiction writers had made good use of the Alpha Centauri system. It was the destination for the Robinson family in Lost in Space and the setting for the film Avatar.
He said: "It has often been argued that the Moon was essential for manned space flight.
"It helpfully provided a close stepping stone for Mankind in its early attempts to access the cosmos."
Similarly, Dr Abel argues, Alpha Centauri provides the next cosmological stepping stone.
It is an island in the sky beckoning human beings out towards the stars.
He said: "One day, the rent on this planet will expire. Millions of years from now, the sun will become a red giant and the earth will be reduced to a cinder circling a dead star.
"Humans will need a new home and Centauri Bb provides both a destination and motivation."
Centauri Bb is currently beyond humanity's reach. A rocket journey of 4.3 light years would take thousands of years.
But Dr Abel said: "Given Mankind's resourcefulness and intrinsic desire to explore, I'm sure that when our sun does die, human beings will be watching the death of their ancient home out there, from the safety of the stars."
However, conditions on the planet would have to improve and cool down.