Project Blue intends to develop a small, low cost space telescope that looks continually at our nearest neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri, and try to directly image any planets orbiting it. A coronagraph will be used to block the otherwise blinding glare of the stars.
The project has opened a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1M to fund the initial design study for the system, which is expected eventually to cost around $30M.
… we need your help. This isn’t a traditional space mission. Within astrophysics, NASA has traditionally funded projects with a much broader scope, like Kepler and Hubble, rather than a project like ours that is focused on a single target. So we started this campaign with the belief that together, people all over the world could push the boundaries of discovery in space, and possibly achieve one of the greatest milestones of human exploration.
With the formation of Project Blue, we brought together the technical experts who can build and launch this telescope: scientists from organizations like BoldlyGo Institute, Mission Centaur, the SETI Institute, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell. And now we’re asking for your support to get involved, and make Project Blue a reality.
Here is a video about the project:
From the website:
Project Blue is a new science initiative to capture the first photograph of a potential Earth-like planet orbiting another Sun-like star. The mission aims to launch a lightweight space telescope to directly image exoplanets around Earth’s nearest star system, Alpha Centauri A and B. With a budget the fraction of the cost of a mid-size astrophysics mission, and a planned launch by the end of the decade, this venture represents an ambitious leap forward in low-cost, high-impact space exploration. Through active collaboration between research institutions, universities, private industry and citizens, Project Blue seeks to make space exploration a participatory, collective endeavor and inspire millions worldwide to engage in scientific inquiry.
The plan is to build a telescope to stare at those two closely paired stars over the course of two years. Because they’re so close to us in astronomical terms — a mere 4.37 light-years, or 26 trillion miles — it would be possible to get a direct image of any potentially habitable planets using a telescope that has a 20-inch-wide (0.5-meter-wide) mirror, Morse said.
What’s more, the telescope would be able to analyze the light reflected by those planets. That could tell scientists what their atmospheres are made of. If the planet shines with the right shade of blue, that would suggest it’s an alien Earth.
Here is an infographic (larger version):