Is It Possible That Alien Life Exists Right Next Door? Searching for Habitable Planets in the Alpha Centauri System.
Professor Peter Tuthill is leading TOLIMAN, a mission to see if the nearest stars have planets that potentially support life, in partnership with the Breakthrough Initiative, Saber Astronautics, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Today, a quest to find undiscovered planets potentially capable of supporting life around Alpha Centauri, Earth’s nearest neighbor, was unveiled.
The proposed telescope project will search for planets in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, a region surrounding a star system roughly four light-years away where temperatures are just right for rocky planets to have liquid surface water.
The project started in April of this year. TOLIMAN is the Arabic-derived name for Alpha Centauri from antiquity, according to scientists from the University of Sydney, in collaboration with Breakthrough Initiatives in California, Saber Astronautics in Australia, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Our closest star neighbors, the Alpha and Proxima Centauri systems, are proving to be very exciting,” stated Dr. Pete Worden, Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. “The TOLIMAN mission will represent a big step in determining whether or not there are planets capable of supporting life.” Professor Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney’s Sydney Institute for Astronomy, the project’s head, is ecstatic about this new window on the cosmos.
“Astronomers have incredible technology that allow us to detect thousands of planets surrounding stars across broad swaths of the galaxy,” he said. “However, we know very little about our own celestial backyard.”
“It’s a modern conundrum; we’re like net-savvy city dwellers with global social media connections, but we don’t know anyone on our block.”
This gap in our local knowledge has far-reaching implications, he claims.
Professor Tuthill stated, “Getting to know our planetary neighbors is vitally crucial.” “We have the highest chances of finding and analyzing atmospheres, surface chemistry, and potentially even the fingerprints of a biosphere — the preliminary hints of life – on these next-door worlds.” Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbor, is a triple star containing two stars that are quite similar to our Sun. Both stars could contain temperate planets, while the third star, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, already has one planet in a ‘Goldilocks orbit,’ identified in 2016.
Breakthrough Initiatives, a collection of scientific and technical programs dedicated to the hunt for extraterrestrial life, has backed the project. Yuri Milner, an Israeli science and technology investor and philanthropist, launched the Initiatives.
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