Astronomers are preparing to photograph the Alpha Centuari system in an attempt to find the first habitable exoplanet, Popular Science reported.
The telescope will be primed to capture the first optical image of a planet outside our solar system which could accommodate life.
The privately-funded mission, Project Blue, will be led by scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the SETI Institute and the Boldly Go Institute.
The astronomers hope to launch the telescope into orbit in just a few years, and they aim to capture a photo similar to the one of Earth famously captured by Voyager.
Jon Morse, CEO of the Boldly Go Institute, told Popular Science: “We believe that this is something we can do with private funding, and we’re out to do that as soon as possible.”
Commenting on the announcement, Steve Howell, a member of NASA’s Kepler science team, told Popular Science: “It’s pretty ambitious. But that’s ok, we should do ambitious things.”
The team chose Alpha Centauri because it’s close to our own solar system, while it’s likely that a rocky planet, if it exists, would orbit far enough from its star for scientists to be able to separate its reflection from the stars’ light.
Proxima b, the Earth-like planet discovered by scientists earlier this year, would be impossible to photograph because it orbits its star too closely.
Moore added: “The fact that you do have two stars [at Alpha Centauri], it’s like two coin flips.
“There’s four possible outcomes and only one of them is nothing, so we’re hoping that at least one of the stars will have terrestrial planets around it, and possibly both, which would be an amazing discovery.”