THE MISSION


TO TAKE THE FIRST PHOTOGRAPH OF ANy EARTH-LIKE PLANETs AROUND OUR CLOSEST SUN-LIKE STARS


MISSION CONCEPT

We are building a low-cost space telescope to directly image the habitable zone of the nearest star system, aCen A and B, with the goal of revealing the next potentially habitable planet beyond the Solar System. The telescope has the capability of recognizing “Earth-like” or larger planets displaying three key characteristics: 0.5 to 1.5 times of the size of Earth, orbiting within the habitable zone of the host star, and possessing an atmosphere that indicates liquid water can exist on the surface. Such an atmosphere is likely to make the planet blue, like the Earth, unless it is covered with clouds.

The chances of a potentially habitable planet existing in the habitable zone of aCen A and B could be up to 85%, based on results from the Kepler mission (5,000+ identified exoplanets), new exoplanet demographics (Burke et. al, 2015) and unique characteristics of an Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a binary star like aCen A and B. 

If such planets exist in the aCen A and B system, our mission will be the first to take a direct “pale blue dot” image of another “Earth,” and also to generate the most detailed image of an inner planetary system around any star other than the Sun. Such a discovery will profoundly impact space exploration policies, spur public interest in astronomy and science, and accelerate the search for habitable worlds in and beyond our galaxy.  

 

SCIENCE OBJECTIVE

Directly detect and characterize Earth-like planets in the aCen A&B system. 

 

SCIENCE IMPACT OF OUR MISSION

  • Confirm the possible existence of an Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of Alpha Centauri

  • Survey the high-priority target aCen A and B in preparation for future missions

  • Explore the unique niche of longer-period planets currently not surveyed by Kepler or RV missions

  • Implement advance astrometry and coronography technology for LUVOIR and HABEX

 

THE TECHNOLOGY

Mission Centaur and partners will build a state-of-the-art exoplanet imaging space telescope whose key technologies are the PIAA Coronograph, a deformable mirror with compact electronics, Multi-Star Wavefront Control (MSWC), and Orbital Differential Imaging (ODI). Together they can efficiently suppress the light from the two stars (aCen A and B) separately, thus allowing the planet to be seen. Our team has extensive experience developing and testing these technologies. 

 

WHY ALPHA CENTAURI?

aCen offers a unique opportunity to be the first to directly image an Earth-like planet around the closest star. aCen is a unique in almost every respect:

  1. Unusual proximity: At 4.8 light years, aCen is the closest star system to us. It’s an unusually close distance, as the next Sun-like star located 2.5 times further away and is more representative of the distance to the closest Sun-like star for most of history. 
  2. Easy observation: Its proximity allows the observation of an Earth-like planet with a space telescope as small as 30cm (with a powerful coronagraph), while any other star requires telescopes of at least 1m in size.
  3. Fertile ground: Proxima Centauri, which is thought to be part of the same system, is known to have a potentially habitable planet.