The project will launch a lightweight telescope into the Earth's orbit by 2019, hoping to provide scientific community with a wealth of data about potential habitable planets
There has been a lot of recent talk and excitement over the discovery of many potential Earth-like planets beyond our solar system. Some of them are even suspected of supporting life, including a neighboring star system Alpha Centauri.
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Alpha Centauri are the closet stars outside our solar system lying at a distance of 4.37 light years away. The system consists of three stars, a pair Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B alongside a small red dwarf Proxima Centauri b. From Earth, the star system appears as just a single point of light. To find more about the star system, researchers have planned a new mission called “Project Blue”. They mission led by two private companies will launch a lightweight telescope into the space and attempt to capture the first ever direct image of Earth-like planet Alpha Centauri.
“Project Blue will build and launch a compact space telescope with a 45-50 centimeter aperture to directly image the habitable zone of the nearest star system to Earth – Alpha Centauri A and B – with the goal of revealing the closest potentially habitable planet beyond our Solar System.” The project’s website reveals.
“If such planets exist in the Alpha Centauri A and B system – and there are two Sun-like stars to investigate – our mission will be the first to take a direct image of another Earth.”
Getting a close up image of exoplanet like Alpha Centuari would provide scientific community with a lot of valuable data, which up until now was inaccessible.
“What makes the Alpha Centauri system so attractive is that each of the two stars is a lot like our own sun, which gives us two chances to find planets in either of their habitable zones," said Supriya Chakrabarti, professor in the Department of Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. "This also gives us an opportunity to design a mission that leverages technology we've been developing and space qualifying in our NASA-supported programs.”
Another reason for selecting the star system is the proximity. Since Alpha Centauri is closest star system to us, it is observable by a telescope with a 45-50 centimeter aperture. The next Sun-like star is located 2.5x further away from the Earth and would require a telescope 2.5 times larger in size. So a telescope that is too big, clumsy and heavy would be difficult to launch to the space.
“Such a discovery will profoundly impact our understanding of the potential for life to exist elsewhere in our galaxy, spur public interest in astronomy and science, and accelerate the search for other potentially habitable worlds.” The website said.
The mission is a joint venture between BoldlyGo Institute and Mission Centaur and is expected to launch in 2019.