Meet Project Blue: A space telescope you can help create

A team of scientists is asking for your help in building a new telescope capable of capturing an image of Alpha Centauri in the hopes that they will be able to replicate the iconic “pale blue dot” of Earth, but with another planet orbiting one of the sun-like stars closest to our solar system.

According to the Washington Post, the initiative is known as Project Blue, and the driving force behind is to find a companion for Earth, which was photographed at a distance of more than 3.5 million miles by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it was exiting the solar system on Feb. 14, 1990.

In the picture, our home planet appears to be little more than a tiny speck lost amongst the vast darkness that is space, and now Jon Morse, the former director of NASA’s astrophysics division and current chief executive of the BoldlyGo Institute, told the Post that he and his colleagues are hoping “to take another pale blue-dot image. This is the holy grail of exoplanet research.”

To make this dream a reality, they have turned to a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, hoping that they can raise $1 million by Dec. 20 in order to get the project off the ground. After that, the team hopes to acquire additional funding through foundations and individual donors, ultimately building and launching the telescope into low Earth orbit by the end of 2019.

Scientists seeking $50m in funding for ‘high-risk, high-reward’ project

Morse and Brett Marty, executive director of Mission Centaur, told the Post that they believe that they will be able to build their dishwasher-sized satellite, which would include a mirror that is less than one meter in size and equally small hardware, for no more than $50 million.

“The project is the kind of high-risk, high-reward mission that NASA is typically unwilling to pursue,” the newspaper reported. “There’s no guarantee that the system contains planets, let alone rocky bodies in the habitable zone. There is a chance that scientists will spend millions of dollars lofting the telescope into space, only to find it has nothing to look at.”

“It’s pretty ambitious, but that’s okay. We should do ambitious things,” Steve Howell, a member of NASA’s Kepler science team who is not a member of Project Blue, told Popular Science after the initiative was initially announced in October. “If you build something that is very specific for a single goal, then it’s a lot easier than building something that has a larger goal of doing general science, or looking at many stars. In principle, I think this could be easily done.”

Earlier this year, astronomers announced that they had discovered of a small, rocky planet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, a star in the Alpha Centauri system that is located 4.22 light years from Earth. While the Project Blue telescope would not be able to capture an image of this particular world, as it is too close to its star, it does provide hope for the mission’s success.

“It’s an old saying that if you can do it once, you can do it more than once… Where there’s one there’s usually others because the process for forming these planets is common,” Marty told the Post. If he, Morse and their colleagues are successful, then their telescope would spend a period of two years in orbit, imaging Alpha Centauri and tracking any planets it finds, all with the hopes that they will be able to duplicate the “pale blue dot” photo within the next five years.


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