The Search for Habitable Alien Worlds in Earth's Backyard Heats Up | 6/10/2019 | Mike Wall
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The hunt for nearby exoplanets has just heated up considerably.

A new instrument designed to find potentially habitable alien worlds in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own sun, began operations on May 23, project team members announced today (June 10).

Instrument - NEAR - Near - Earths - Alpha

The instrument, called NEAR (Near Earths in the Alpha Cen Region), is a thermal coronagraph installed on the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

Coronagraphs block the superbright light of stars, potentially allowing dim orbiting planets to be seen. Since NEAR is a thermal coronagraph, team members are looking for heat radiated by worlds in the Alpha Centauri system rather than visible-range starlight reflected off their surfaces.

Astronomers - Planet - Proxima - Centauri - Planet

In 2016, astronomers discovered a roughly Earth-size planet circling Proxima Centauri. This planet, known as Proxima b, appears to lie in the habitable zone, the just-right range of distances where liquid water might be stable on a planet's surface.

This past April, astronomers announced the detection of another possible planet circling farther away from Proxima Centauri. This world, known as Proxima c, has yet to be confirmed, however; it remains a planet candidate.

Planets - Star - Alpha - Centauri - AB

No planets are known to reside near the binary star Alpha Centauri AB, but NEAR may change that fact. The coronagraph — a joint project of ESO and Breakthrough Watch, a program that hunts for potentially Earth-like planets around nearby stars — upgrades an existing VLT instrument called VISIR (VLT Spectrometer and Imager for the Mid-infrared).

The NEAR (Near Earths in the Alpha Cen Region) installed on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large...
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