Scientists Upgrading Very Large Telescope To Search For Exoplanets

To help fund the upgrade, ESO has partnered with Breakthrough Initiatives, a program established in 2015 by Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner to search for life throughout the Universe.

Right now, it's hard for the telescope to detect planets because of how bright the two main stars of the Alpha Centauri system are.

The agreement between ESO and the Breakthrough Initiatives provides funds for the VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared (VISIR) instrument, mounted at the Very Large Telescope (VLT), to be modified in order to greatly enhance its ability to search for exoplanets in Alpha Centauri. Located just over 4 light-years away, the triple-star Alpha Centauri system could be home to unseen, habitable planets - the closest possible places for life to exist outside our Solar System. E-ELT is European Extremely Large Telescope that can capture long distance planets in the galaxy.

"Detecting a habitable planet is an enormous challenge due to the brightness of the planetary system's host star, which tends to overwhelm the relatively dim planets". The project - hailed as one of the most ambitious space projects of all time - plans to use an Earth-based giant laser to push the fleet of interstellar space probes to almost the speed of light.

Experts believe Alpha Centaur may be disguising planets which could habitable to human and alien life.

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Breakthrough Starshot - the $100 million Stephen Hawking-backed initiative that aims to send a cluster of microchip-sized spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri - announced Monday that it had struck a deal with the European Southern Observatory.

Unsurprisingly, Breakthrough Initiatives is very interested in finding planets within the Alpha Centauri system, since such worlds would make great targets for Breakthrough Starshot to analyze. For instance, it may allow the VLT to employ the technique known as coronagraphy, which reduces stellar light and could reveal signals coming from potential exoplanets.

What is Breakthrough Initiatives?

Moreover, Proxima b appears to well within the habitable zone around the star, which means it has an estimated surface temperature that would allow the presence of liquid water. The hardware consists of KTO, Kampf Telescope Optics, and Munich that will host both calibration detector device and wave front sensor.

A new coronograph is part of the upgrade plans of the ESO. 2019 might not bring the announcement of a planet the size of Earth, but it could tell us the Alpha Centauri system has more planets than we know about right now. But even if some snags slow down the project, one thing is certain: The ESO is going to be taking a really close look at our neighbors' stars before 2020, and that should give us a much better idea of how many more planets there are right next door.

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