The closest star system to Earth’s own is the Alpha Centauri system, which is just over four light years away. Astronomers believe there may be an Earth-like exoplanet there, and as you can imagine, they’re excited to find out whether or not it might support life forms.
Unfortunately, four light years is still quite far away, and our space observation equipment can only distinguish fuzzy blobs and flickering light, which have made it possible for astronomers to say the exoplanet was there in the first place.
We have no crisp pictures of the exoplanet just yet, so it’s hard to say for sure exactly what kind of exoplanet it is, what it looks like, and whether or not it can support life. On the other hand, a new project being called Project Blue aims to break this barrier by taking an actual photograph of said exoplanet.
Image Credit: Project Blue
“The mission aims to launch a lightweight space telescope to directly image exoplanets around Earth’s nearest star system, Alpha Centauri A and B. With a budget the fraction of the cost of a mid-size astrophysics mission, and a planned launch by the end of the decade, this venture represents an ambitious leap forward in low-cost, high-impact space exploration, “the Project Blue webpage reads.
“Through active collaboration between research institutions, universities, private industry and citizens, Project Blue seeks to make space exploration a participatory, collective endeavor and inspire millions worldwide to engage in scientific inquiry.”
Among the things we are most interested in learning is what kind of atmospheric composition this system’s exoplanet(s) may have, and whether or not they contain any liquid water like the Earth. Astronomers will be focusing on the habitable zone surrounding the stars in the hopes that we might find something worthwhile there.
Because the system has two Sun-like stars, it offers astronomers two separate chances to search for and photograph exoplanets in the system with Project Blue.
Obviously, the private initiative has a limited budget, so they have their work cut out for them. The hope is to create a new kind of lightweight telescope craft that can be launched into space to orbit the Earth as soon as 2019 and grab its picture in the years following.
There is surely a lot of speculation around whether or not the project will be successful in capturing a clear photograph of another world from outside of our own solar system. On the other hand, if it’s successful, it would be the first time we’ve ever done it successfully.
Below, a video shows a possible render of the Project Blue telescope: