"Hold Off on the Alpha Centauri Trip," The New York Times announced in its story last week about the doubtful planet.
But this question really misses the point. There has been a paradigm shift from a decade ago when astronomers wondered how many other stars had planets. The question today is where are the planets located around a star? How big are they, and what is the evolution of the planetary system?
ANALYSIS: The Coolest Thing About Alpha Centauri A
The impressive planet inventory take by NASA's Kepler space observatory, combined with other research, has taken us down the road to concluding that, on average, every star in the Milky Way galaxy has at least one planet. What's more, Earth-sized planets are far more common than giant Jupiters.
If we ever convinced ourselves that Alpha Centauri doesn't have any planets, that would indeed be quite a shocker and worthy of front-page news in the New York Times.
Even if the Alpha Centauri B planet doesn't exist, there is very little doubt that other planets will be discovered there. It's only a matter of time. Perhaps all three members of the triple system of two sunlike stars and a diminutive red dwarf star possess planets.
So I will boldly predict that the Alpha Centauri system has a number of planets and at least one should be habitable. The details of this system will be exciting and extraordinary in the same way European explorers marveled at the New World.
The system is so old that, under the right planetary conditions, Darwinian evolution has kicked in and there is an alien world that is covered with an extraterrestrial Serengeti of multi-celled creatures that make Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park look like a petting zoo.
Could intelligent life be there too? Unfortunately, in a lousy coincidence, the star system is too far south to be observed by the powerful Arecibo radio antenna in Puerto Rico, or the new Allen Telescope Array in northern California, that can easily look for any artificial radio transmissions.
ANALYSIS: Could WE Probe ET With Interstellar Radar?