Project Blue Wants to Photograph an Earth-like Planet at Alpha Centauri

By John Wenz | October 11, 2016 4:29 pm
best_image_of_alpha_centauri_a_and_b

(Credit: ESA/Hubble)

Pale Red Dot fulfilled its goal of finding a planet around Proxima Centauri. But a new group, going under the name Project Blue, is ready to turn its attention toward the largest stars in the system: Alpha Centauri A & B.

The goal? To do what others have failed to do: find a planet there. But not just any planet. The two year initiative will concentrate on finding a planet in the habitable zone of one of the stars. And they’ll try to snap a picture of it, a more distant “Pale Blue Dot” picture.

It’s an audacious goal. The only directly imaged planets have been Jupiter-sized worlds a few million years old. But with a distance of 4.4 light years, there may be a chance to catch a planet there. The project will look in visible light spectrum in blue and green channels. It won’t be much. Maybe a pixel or so, but it will be enough to figure out if there’s the chance it’s a water world.

“Project Blue has sprung out of the urgency to do a Pale Blue Dot image that is the holy grail of exoplanet research,” Jon Morse, CEO of the Boldly Go Institute, says. Boldly Go is organizing the project, which will involve the SETI Institute and the University of Massachusetts, as well as other funders and stakeholders.

The plan calls for launching a telescope into low Earth orbit with an aperture of 17.7 inches (45 cm). That’s essentially as big as a high-end backyard telescope. It will use a coronagraph to black out the light of the stars, and use adaptive optics to create a robust signal to noise ratio.

After two years, with all luck, a planet will emerge.

“It’s a very daunting challenge to observe a small planet around a sunlike star — the wobble of the star is small and it’s at the edge of whatever we’re able to achieve,” Morse says.

If the project succeeds, we’ll find a planet that’s thus far only been dreamed of in science fiction. If it doesn’t, the group will still have valuable information about how to use it around other nearby Sun-like stars.

 

This article originally appeared in Astronomy.com.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets
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  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Stipulated: All stars are orbited by debris. The Earth is some 4.5 billion years old. 1900 AD, radio appears; 2500 AD (optimistic), humanity has bred, consumed, fouled, and blasted itself to Hell. Call it a 600 year window of opportunity over 4.5 billion years – and yer gonna heed aerobic respiration to pull it off.

    There is no reason to believe the New World (sustainable societies) would have gone technological. Europe less the Protestant Revolution and Judaism is deeply stuck. Asia thought about it. Both China and Japan abandoned it. That leaves Islam, specifically the Moors. How did Roman Catholic Spain greet STEM? In blood. Moorish Spain is still the finest part of that PIIGS.

    The only way a civilization will take the express elevator is absent religion. Politics (large scale organization) is too greedy not to wield a holy cudgel. We are indistinguishable from being alone, as are everybodies else.

  • OWilson

    Save your money and contemplate.

    Logically there are to be “billions and billions” of planets out there.

    Send a simple signal to your target and wait 4.2 X 2 earth years for a response.

    If there’s no answer, move along citizen!

    Today, simple realities are obscured by ill defined anomaly, speculation and expensive attempts to fit angels through eyes of needles. – See AGW, and Confirmation Bias :)

  • KRS

    And apparently, some people think the only reason to look at planets is to see if there’s advanced life there.

    • OWilson

      Yep, they say the Project goal, involving SETI, is to find “the holy grail”, an Earth like planet.

      (That would be SETI, as in Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.)

      I guess it might help with the funding?

      • KRS

        And yet this wasn’t a SETI story. It was a planet detection story.

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