Breakthrough Starshot to fund planet-hunting hardware for telescope

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Enlarge / The VISIR instrument before its impending upgrades. (credit: ESO ) Today, the European Southern Observatory announced an agreement with Breakthrough Starshot, the group dedicated to sending hardware to return data from the nearest stars. The agreement would see Breakthrough Starshot fund the development of new hardware that would allow the ESO’s Very Large Telescope to become an efficient planet hunter. The goal is presumably to confirm there’s something in the Alpha Centauri system worth sending hardware to image. Breakthrough Starshot’s audacious plan involves using ground-based lasers and light sails to accelerate tiny craft to a significant fraction of the speed of light. This would allow the craft to visit the stars of the Alpha Centauri system within decades. The company’s goal is to get data back to Earth while many of the people alive today are still around. Getting meaningful data requires a detailed understanding of the Alpha Centauri system, which is where the new telescope hardware will come in. Last year, scientists confirmed the existence of an exoplanet orbiting the closest star of the three-star system, Proxima Centauri. But we’ll want to know significantly more about it, its orbit, and whether there are signs of any other planets in the system before we send spacecraft. The other two stars of Alpha Centauri are also worth a closer look. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Breakthrough Starshot to fund planet-hunting hardware for telescope

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