Even we have a most sophisticated technology and things we could only dream of just 20 or 30 years ago, we still now so little about the space and the galaxy our planet is placed in… That’s why astronomers have launched an ambitious project, which should occur the very first photo of “Earth-like” planet. The mission that will be given to private institutes should include the construction of a telescope the size of washing machines that will be directed to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to us, hoping to photograph the planet that is potentially habitable. Scientists have, since 1980 to date, confirmed the presence of more than 3,000 exoplanets, or planets outside Solar system. However, our knowledge about them is based only on through indirect measurements or flashing light that reaches us from the star. No one has ever photographed a planet outside our solar system. New missions, the Project Blue, is a continuation of work on the NASA Kepler telescope and other instruments.
“In the last ten years of research of exoplanet, it turned out that it has much more than we could ever imagine. Now we are trying to find out if life is common in the universe or a very rare occurrence, “said John Morse, former director of astrophysics at NASA and CEO of the Institute BoldlyGo, who initiated Project Blue. The mission will not be easy. Alpha Centauri is however far back as 4.4 light-years, or 40 trillion kilometers, and can hardly be called a neighborhood. In addition, this system has two stars orbiting around each other, and the light must be locked so the planet could be seen.
Supriya Chakrabarty, professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts, believes that the success of the mission depends on at least three technologies. The first would be to focus the telescope properly to Alpha Centauri, the other to separate the stray light from the light reflected by the planet, and the third to replace a big telescope mirror with thousands of smaller telescope mirrors which can be individually manipulated. “This is a very challenging project, but it does and exciting,” says Chakrabarti. Although the project is now lead by the BoldlyGo institute and one private organization Mishnah Centaur, Mors hopes to attract other partners from research institutions and national space agencies.
The mission is expected to cost less than $ 50 million. The telescope will then spend two years “staring” at Alpha Centauri, in the hope that they will notice some of the planets around two stars. It can record only a dot in the dark, but that would be revolutionary, astronomers believe. “For me, finding Earth-like planets orbiting the nearest star would be something phenomenal,” says Chakrabarti. Plans like this one are not new. Not long time ago, Ruslan Belikov and Eduardo Bendek from NASA Research Center in California had a similar idea. They wanted to launch a telescope ACEsat but that mission was too risky for the US National Space Agency. We can now only wait and see what the Project Blue will discover. Anyways, it is really amazing to even think that planets like our exist somewhere else, isn’t it?