Two non-profit organizations have teamed up to take the first picture of an earth-like planet in the ever expanding search for life outside our solar system. The BoldlyGo Institute and Mission Centaur announced Tuesday they are joining forces to launch a lightweight telescope around earth's nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. The private mission, called Project Blue, attempts to capture the first photograph of a potential earth-like planet orbiting another sun-like star.
"If such planets exist in the Alpha Centauri A and B system ... our mission will be the first to take a direct image of another earth," the mission's website announced.
At 4.37 light years away, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to our planet and contains not just one but two stars similar to our sun. The orbiting planets are approximately 0.5 to 1.5 times the size of earth.
The project is built off of previous work done by NASA's Kepler space telescope that identified rocky planets within the Alpha Centauri suns' habitable zones with conditions right for flowing water.
"Such a discovery will profoundly impact our understanding of the potential for life to exist elsewhere in our galaxy, spur public interest in astronomy and science, and accelerate the search for other potentially habitable worlds," Project Blue announced on its website.
The mission is budgeted at a fraction of the cost of a mid-size astrophysics mission. Project Blue plans to have the telescope in its final phase of construction by 2019 and to start operations by 2022. The two organizations behind Project Blue hope to inspire scientific questioning and make space exploration a more participatory endeavor. Any planets they photograph will allow for a more targeted exploration by NASA.