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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Searching for Planets in the Alpha Centauri System

ESO has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the Very Large Telescope instrumentation in Chile to conduct a search for planets in the nearby star system Alpha Centauri. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative.

The image below shows the closest stellar system to the Sun, the bright double star Alpha Centauri AB and its distant and faint companion Proxima Centauri. In late 2016 ESO signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the VLT instrumentation to conduct a search for planets in the Alpha Centauri system. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative.

image of Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)/Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Mahdi Zamani
Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)/Digitized Sky Survey 2 
Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin/Mahdi Zamani

ESO, represented by the Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives, represented by Pete Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. The agreement provides funds for the VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) instrument, mounted at ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) to be modified in order to greatly enhance its ability to search for potentially habitable planets around Alpha Centauri, the closest stellar system to the Earth. The agreement also provides for telescope time to allow a careful search program to be conducted in 2019.

The discovery in 2016 of a planet, Proxima b, around Proxima Centauri, the third and faintest star of the Alpha Centauri system, adds even further impetus to this search.

Knowing where the nearest exoplanets are is of paramount interest for Breakthrough Starshot, the research, and engineering program launched in April 2016, which aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven "nano craft," laying the foundation for the first launch to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

Source: European Southern Observatory

Read full article at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170112130736.htm

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