NASA space telescope discovers Earth's closest rocky neighbor

NASA researchers working with the Spitzer Space Telescope announced on Thursday that they had indeed found the closest rocky exoplanet to our own. It's a tiny burg called HD 219134b that's just 21 light years from Earth in the Cassiopeia constellation, near the North Star. It was first spotted with the 3.6-meter Galileo National Telescope in the Canary Islands before being confirmed with the Spitzer. Even though the planet is larger than Earth, researchers only noticed it as it transited across the face of its parent star (astronomers look for the star to dim then brighten again as evidence of an orbiting planet). Unfortunately, there's basically zero chance that we'll find aliens there as 134b orbits far too close to sustain life.

Still, the planet itself is a treasure trove of astronomical data that will keep scientists busy for years. "Transiting exoplanets are worth their weight in gold because they can be extensively characterized," Michael Werner, the project scientist for the Spitzer mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said in a statement. "This exoplanet will be one of the most studied for decades to come."

[Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech]