The International Business Times announced that the Breakthrough Institute, which proposed Project Starshot to send nanoprobes to Alpha Centauri, has made a deal with the European Southern Observatory to hunt for planets that may be orbiting that star, one of the nearest to our solar system. After upgrades are made to the VISIR instrument on the Very Large Telescope located in Chile, the search for planets will commence starting likely in 2019.

The announcement of Project Breakthrough Starshot last April 2016 caused considerable excitement. The idea is to send a swarm of nanoprobes to the Alpha Centauri system to conduct a flyby mission.

The first fleet of starships from Earth would consist of microchips with cameras, power, propulsion, navigation, and communications equipment. Each of the chipprobes would be attached to a light sail. The light sail would be propelled to 100 million miles an hour by a vast array of grand based lasers in the 100-gigawatt range. The undertaking has been funded initially at $100 million for a technology development program that will last decades before the fleet is sent forth. Scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Internet tycoons such as Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg are involved. The project is being led by Pete Worden, recently director of the NASA Ames Research Center.

More recently, NASA announced its support for the undertaking.

The Space agency is developing self-healing electronics that will be able to endure decades of exposure to hard radiation in interstellar space.

Alpha Centaur is a double star system that resides about 4.5 light years from Earth. It could be considered a triple star system if one includes Proxima Centauri, which orbits the other two stars at a considerable distance.

Recently, a planet was discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri.

Thousands of so-called exoplanets have already been discovered, especially by the Kepler Space Telescope, though only a few are candidates to be other Earths capable of sustaining life. The discovery of planets orbiting Alpha Centauri, so close to Earth, would be a game changer, providing targets for the Starshot nano-star ships.

If even one of those planets is Earth-like in any way, the development would be the greatest discovery so far of the 21st Century.

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