Since the Alpha Centauri System was discovered, we all just wanted to jump into space and reach there. The reason is simple, it is the closest system to us and with potentially habitable planets. It is more than 4 light-years away from us and with our current technology, it will take about 19000 years to reach this nearest star. However, Nasa is working on something that may shrink the travel time to 20 years.
Why Alpha Centauri is the most promising system for Alien Life?
Alpha Centauri is a binary star system having Alpha Centauri A and B. There is one more, Alpha Centauri C also known as Proxima Centauri next to the AB stars.
Alpha Centauri A
The biggest reason scientists getting mad about this system is the A and B stars. Alpha Centauri A is the main sequence G-type yellow star just like our Sun. It is a little larger in diameter and 10 percent more massive than the Sun.
Alpha Centauri B
The Alpha Centauri B is a K type star that is also similar to the Sun. It is 14 percent smaller than our Sun in diameter having 90 percent of its mass.
Proxima Centauri (Alpha Centauri C)
Now Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf that is much smaller in size and 20,000 times dimmer than the all these three stars make a triple star system
Alpha Centauri Planets
Alpha Centauri Bb
In 2012 it was found that Alpha Centauri B is accompanied by a planet which was denied in 2015. However, many scientists and enthusiasts still believe that the 2012 study was correct.
Proxima B | Proxima Centauri B | Alpha Centauri CB
On the other hand, Proxima Centauri does have a planet- Proxima Centauri B (also known as Proxima B or Alpha Centauri CB). It was announced in 2016 by the European Southern observatory. Studies suggest that this planet is in the habitable zone as it orbits at a distance of just 7.5 million KM from its star.
For your information, Earth orbits at a distance of 147.16 million Km from Sun. Since Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, the small distance of its planet from it may increase the chances of life in the system. The planet is 1.27 times more massive than and 1.08 times larger in diameter than Earth. This is the reason we call it the best candidate for a Super-Earth.
Proxima Centauri C
A very recent study also suggests that there might be one more planet in the Proxima Centauri system. We are not providing many details about it here because it is not confirmed yet and even if it will be confirmed, the zone where it is rumored to be in is very less likely to have a life. We will write a separate story on this within a few days.
Why everyone is So Interested in Alpha Centauri ?
We saw that as per the official statement by the scientists this triple star system consists of only 1 planet. However, there is one more rumored planet- Alpha Centauri Bb. The biggest reason is that this is the closest system to us and to find a home elsewhere, we will need to start from somewhere. Many also believe that the huge interest of NASA is there because there are many more planets on the system and they are hiding it from us.
Now lets come back to the main topic of Project Starshot.
Philip Lubin is working on a nano-starship called Starshot that will travel at 20% of the speed of light to take us to the Alpha Centauri system. Such an ambitious project also comes with a lot of complications and scientists are trying to figure out what they can do to come over those obstacles.
The biggest problem with the mission is to save the nano-craft from radiation. The deep-space consists of radiation that we cannot imagine. Sending the craft without any protection will be a bad idea.
Then What is the Solution?
Some engineers and scientists have suggested putting some extra coating on the nano-spaceship to protect it from the radiation but no one wants to add the extra weight on the nano-ship at the same time.
It is obvious that extra coating will increase the weight of the craft which will slow it down. The goal is to get to that 20% of the light speed and the design proposed for it just perfect for the speed.
Another solution is to change the route a bit and take the craft through a less radiation active route. This solution will again increase the travel time. Scientists also believe that the chances of damaging the craft are still very high as changing the route will not decrease the radiation that much.
Recently one more solution is proposed which seems to be the best. NASA researcher, Jin-Woo Han told Richard Steven at IEEE Spectrum that on-chip healing technology is around for many years and we can use the same technology. Now the team is working to implement the self-healing technology on the nano-spacecraft.
The plan now is to implement self-healing technology on the machine and wrap it with some extra coating to protect it from the radiation.
How long it will take to develop such a nano-spacecraft?
This may take longer than two decades to be able to build this kind of space-craft. The small size will not only be a problem in the space but scientists also will need to figure out how to protect the machine from dust particles and various gasses when it reaches the Alpha Centauri system. The planets may have a type of gasses that we do not know about yet.
For sure we need to research a lot more to make such a tiny device. However, once we successfully make such a machine, we will learn from it and can make it even better in the future.
Are you excited to see if life exists in the Alpha Centauri system? If you stick around the world for half a century, you might have a clear photograph of the most promising alien world.