Thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope and a number of ground-based observatories, we now know of thousands of planets that orbit other stars. Some of those worlds are thought to be of the size and distance from their home suns that they might be other Earths. A new private undertaking, called Project Blue, is raising money on Kickstarter to go the next step, to build a Space telescope capable of imaging another planet in the Alpha Centauri system and determining whether it has water and an atmosphere capable of supporting life.

The Alpha Centauri system consists of three stars, Alpha Centauri A, slightly larger and with more luminosity than the Earth’s sun, Alpha Centauri B, slightly smaller and much cooler than the Sun, and Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf that is a considerable distance away from the other two stars.

An Earth-sized planet has already been detected orbiting Proxima Centauri in its habitable zone, where life might exist. A private project called Starshot has been funded to send chip sized spacecraft, propelled by a laser, past the planet. The Project Blue effort will focus on Alpha Centauri A and B.

The Project Blue telescope would be about the size of a refrigerator and is planned for launch for a mission lasting between 2019 and 2022. Its sole purpose is to directly image any planets that might be orbiting Alpha Centauri and use instruments to determine whether it has surface water and an atmosphere capable of sustaining life. The initial Kickstarter program seeks to raise $1 million to begin the engineering and design phase of the telescope.

The total cost of the telescope is estimated to be $30 million, expensive for a private effort, a bargain considering what it is designed to discover.

The Kickstarter effort has a number of stretch goals if its $1 million level is surpassed. At $2 million, Project Blue will be able to test the coronagraph, the instrument that would detect water and an atmosphere.

At $4 million the design of the telescope would be complete and manufacture of critical components would commence. The project is lining up private donors and corporate sponsors, but the Kickstarter would demonstrate public interest in the effort to find another Earth just 4.5 light years away.

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