The gringa has previously posted about the significance of the Alpha Centauri system in man’s eternal search for the origins of life, the meaning of life and, perhaps, other life. Europe and Chile are partnering together in an effort to focus their astronomy and scientific efforts to search the planets in this star system to discover any planet’s potential for habitability.
The Breakthrough Starshot civilian scientist program has modified the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) telescope that is in Chile. Scientists and researchers are setting the stage for Starshot’s probe that will be transmitting images from Alpha Centauri. World renowned Stephen Hawking and billionaire Yuri Milner are the captains at the helm of this ambitious private endeavor.
Dubbed the “Very Large Telescope” (VLT), the specialized instrument will use infra-red technology to observe planets so incredibly distant the telescope counterparts of ESO’s VLT have only produced very faint depictions in their images of the planets of the Alpha Centauri system. The improvements to the VLT will minimize the interference of surrounding bright starlight that diminishes the clarity of imaging of the planets. Scientists hope that these improvements will make VLT better designed to find and study the Earth-sized planet orbiting in a cosmic sweet spot, the Goldilocks zone, around Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri system.
An even larger telescope is slated for completion by ESO sometime in the next decade. It’s name, “Extremely Large Telescope” (ELT), may lack imagination, but the gringa doesn’t care so long as it does its job and does it well. This telescope will be committed to gathering data on the other exoplanets in Alpha Centauri.
Although Chile is a hospitable host to this project, there are more than 16 other countries throughout Europe and South America working together toward ultimate success. But why are so many observatories located in countries of Earth’s southern hemisphere? Countries like Chile, Puerto Rico, and Peru?
Well, just as Proxima Centauri is a sweet spot for an Earth-like exoplanet, the Southern hemisphere is a sweet spot for observing the heavens. There are many reasons why these locales are considered ideal for astronomy:
- Remote locations with little industrial and urban development.
- High mountain ranges.
- Miles of coastal elevations
- High altitude deserts with clear, dry air practically year round for clear viewing.
And if you would like to take a peek through Chile’s collection of enormous telescopes, take a trip to the Atacama Desert in the northern part of the country. In addition to the opportunity of a lifetime while gazing into the heavens through a 16 inch telescope, you can tour the Cerro Paranal Observatory and the SPACE Observatory in San Pedro. There are local archaeological sites to explore as well as geographical marvels like a high desert mesa filled with geysers.
But if you can’t afford the money or the time for a Chilean astronomy expedition, no worries. There are so many observatories open to the public, surely you will find one near your own hometown. Wikipedia has a rather extensive list so, find your country of choice and see which observatory is nearest you and is open to the public. And, if you have an enjoyable adventure, drop the gringa a line! I’d love to share your experience!
Source: Breakthrough Initiatives
Image Credit: Extreme Tech