Author Topic: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system  (Read 9171 times)

Offline Star One

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They seem to think this can be done on a relatively modest budget.

Quote
While the project is led by the BoldlyGo Institute and another private organisation, Mission Centaur, which has drawn up plans for the half-metre-wide space telescope, Morse hopes to bring in other partners from academia and national space agencies. The mission is expected to cost less than $50m (£40m).

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/11/ambitious-mission-to-capture-first-picture-of-earth-like-planet-launched-alpha-centauri-project-blue

http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/10/project-blue-aims-to-find-a-pale-blue-dot-around-alpha-centauri/
« Last Edit: 10/11/2016 09:56 AM by Star One »

Offline as58

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Offline Star One

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Website is live: http://www.projectblue.org

What's your view on this, is it a feasible prospect?

Offline redliox

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Just heard about this minutes ago!  I will say the name complements Pale Red Dot, as is the idea of finding out if Proxima's stellar siblings also are planet endowed.  Reading into it further before I make any judgments or comments, but it has my attention.
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Offline redliox

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I've read through enough material to think it's ambitious but not impossible.  I seem to recall Europe employing smaller satellites in LEO to do essentially the same task 'Blue wants to do for studying and imaging exoplanets. 

The major specific I recall is that they want to build a telescope sized like a fridge with a mirror 45-50 centimeters across.  On top of that, they did specify it would be imaging in the visible light.  While daunting, the one plus I can see with them going visible rather than infrared (or ultraviolet as another example) is design simplicity: no chilling or specialty mirrors and materials.  It's going to be in LEO, but considering other telescopes likewise work from it no showstopper either.

I suppose the question is, with essentially unlimited viewing time (the advantage of a private 'scope versus Hubble or Webb) and apparently a handful of 21st-Century tricks, can a telescope only half-a-meter wide indeed image something around either Alpha Centauri A and B?
"Let the trails lead where they may, I will follow."
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Offline as58

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Website is live: http://www.projectblue.org

What's your view on this, is it a feasible prospect?

I'm not exactly an expert on this and there's very little info available, so I don't know. The schedule and budget goals seem pretty ambitious. I'm also not sure if I see the point in doing this. We don't even know if there's a planet to be seen, so spending a lot of money is risky. And why not wait for WFIRST in mid 2020s? I would think that anything that a 50 cm telescope can detect should be easy for WFIRST coronagraph (in not a huge amount of observing time). Or does the closeish angular distance between A and B mean you need a more specialised instrument?
« Last Edit: 10/11/2016 01:02 PM by as58 »

Offline redliox

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I'm not exactly an expert on this and there's very little info available, so I don't know. The schedule and budget goals seem pretty ambitious.

Ambitious indeed, so agreed.

I'm also not sure if I see the point in doing this. We don't even know if there's a planet to be seen, so spending a lot of money is risky. And why not wait for WFIRST in mid 2020s?

The point is we're talking about THE NEAREST STAR(S) AND LIKELY FIRST TO BE VISITED BY HUMANITY.  Aside from future generational plans ect ect, the triplet of Alpha Centauri is the best chance to study exoplanets in decent detail even by telescopes alone, not to mention a curious case of being sun-like (mature stars as old as our sun, metal rich) yet distinct (binary setup, lack of gas giants, multiple star types).  It's not some distant point, this is our next-door neighbor.

Also, we now know tiny Proxima has a planet...more astonishingly one in a habitable zone despite being a puny red dwarf.  Also, since we know being binary is not an obstacle to exoplanet formation (thanks to Kepler's data), it implies the chances are GOOD Proxima's bigger siblings have a court of their own worlds IF we LOOK; and the biggest problem is NO ONE HAS THE TIME TO LOOK...which leads to the next topic...

Why not wait for WFIRST (or likewise JWST)?  Simple: time.  There's the obvious fact neither will be online for several years; however the bigger factor is you won't get much time to use them.  Astronomers nearly have to fight each other gladiatorial-style to gain access to something like Hubble or Kepler.  Every astronomer KNOWS Alpha Centauri is our nearest star...but many don't care to study it as they have other projects.  In Hitchhiker terms, the Vogons manage the Hubble...and you better start signing those forms in triplicate with a wait-time of 40 Venusian years in the bottom office at Proxima b. 

I would think that anything that a 50 cm telescope can detect should be easy for WFIRST coronagraph. Or does the the closeish angular distance between A and B mean you need a more specialised instrument?

Although I'm far from a qualified astronomer, I know one trick exoplanet searches use when they don't have a Hubble to spare is to get longer exposures of a star...or rather of the diminutive planets circling.  Coupled with something like a coronagraph or other modern ways to tweak light (even digitally), you can obtain sufficient light to image an exoplanet despite lacking a megolithic-telescope (either in space or on the groung).  This proposed telescope, despite being roughly a half-meter, is only going to stare at Alpha Centauri...for hours and hours on end compared to the handful of minutes an average Hubble astronomer may be granted.  It's a cheap way to get the attention a specific target like Alpha Centauri requires.
"Let the trails lead where they may, I will follow."
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Offline redliox

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Youtube video related to Project Blue:
"Let the trails lead where they may, I will follow."
-Tigatron

Offline Star One

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I thought the problem regarding the existence of planets around the Alpha Centauri binary was how close they got at the closest point in their orbits, which is equivalent to the distance of Jupiter from our Sun.

Offline as58

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I thought the problem regarding the existence of planets around the Alpha Centauri binary was how close they got at the closest point in their orbits, which is equivalent to the distance of Jupiter from our Sun.

There's been a fair amount of research on this. https://arxiv.org/abs/1604.04917 is one recent paper concerning the stability of planets in Alpha Centauri system. tl;dr: stable orbits even on Gyr time scales in the habitable zone are possible.

Offline redliox

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #10 on: 10/12/2016 12:04 AM »
I thought the problem regarding the existence of planets around the Alpha Centauri binary was how close they got at the closest point in their orbits, which is equivalent to the distance of Jupiter from our Sun.

The distance is actually more like Saturn's with a closest approach of 11.2 AU and a max of 35.6 AU according to Wikipedia.  There have been a handful of studies about planet formation around the system's main pair and, basically, if the terrestrial planets were transported to either A or B they'd behave virtually the same as they already do.  Mars' orbit might be vulnerable but something at Earth's distance would be totally safe.  Considering Kepler's confirmed sightings of binary planets, both circumbinary and singularly, it implies something should be around either star. 

In nature, even if it's a weird gap something almost always falls into it.  Jupiter, for instance, orbits an object (Sun) over 1,000 times it's mass and still holds sway over over swarms of moons and two hordes of Trojan asteroids.  I cite this because Trojans are not perfectly stable, likely more so when Jupiter was small and still in formation, and yet today numerous bodies fill those voids because it exists out of a gigantic balancing act between a planet and star.  Likewise, especially during their formation, the Alpha Centauri triplet was probably a mess but anything not consumed by the stars could have been coaxed into stable orbits.
"Let the trails lead where they may, I will follow."
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Offline as58

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #11 on: 10/12/2016 10:33 AM »
Is there any real info available anywhere? The group seems to have been very successful in getting press releases out (there are articles on New York Times, the Guardian, Popular Science, and Scientific American websites), but there's very little in terms of information about the technical plan and scientific rationale (beyond 'it would be so cool'). A look at the website of BoldlyGo Institute shows that this isn't their first project, but I don't see evidence that any of them has made much progress. I was sceptical to begin with, but now I'm even more so.

Offline Star One

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Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #12 on: 10/12/2016 12:00 PM »
Is there any real info available anywhere? The group seems to have been very successful in getting press releases out (there are articles on New York Times, the Guardian, Popular Science, and Scientific American websites), but there's very little in terms of information about the technical plan and scientific rationale (beyond 'it would be so cool'). A look at the website of BoldlyGo Institute shows that this isn't their first project, but I don't see evidence that any of them has made much progress. I was sceptical to begin with, but now I'm even more so.

I am not sure why you think they should put all this info out there now, especially if the technology involving the telescope is proprietary.
« Last Edit: 10/12/2016 12:01 PM by Star One »

Offline as58

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #13 on: 10/12/2016 12:15 PM »
Is there any real info available anywhere? The group seems to have been very successful in getting press releases out (there are articles on New York Times, the Guardian, Popular Science, and Scientific American websites), but there's very little in terms of information about the technical plan and scientific rationale (beyond 'it would be so cool'). A look at the website of BoldlyGo Institute shows that this isn't their first project, but I don't see evidence that any of them has made much progress. I was sceptical to begin with, but now I'm even more so.

I am not sure why you think they should put all this info out there now, especially if the technology involving the telescope is proprietary.

To convince anyone to give them money? If they're hoping to launch in 2020, there's no time to waste.

Offline Star One

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #14 on: 10/12/2016 12:55 PM »
Is there any real info available anywhere? The group seems to have been very successful in getting press releases out (there are articles on New York Times, the Guardian, Popular Science, and Scientific American websites), but there's very little in terms of information about the technical plan and scientific rationale (beyond 'it would be so cool'). A look at the website of BoldlyGo Institute shows that this isn't their first project, but I don't see evidence that any of them has made much progress. I was sceptical to begin with, but now I'm even more so.

I am not sure why you think they should put all this info out there now, especially if the technology involving the telescope is proprietary.

To convince anyone to give them money? If they're hoping to launch in 2020, there's no time to waste.

Maybe such information is for potential investors eyes only.

Offline as58

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #15 on: 10/12/2016 01:08 PM »
Is there any real info available anywhere? The group seems to have been very successful in getting press releases out (there are articles on New York Times, the Guardian, Popular Science, and Scientific American websites), but there's very little in terms of information about the technical plan and scientific rationale (beyond 'it would be so cool'). A look at the website of BoldlyGo Institute shows that this isn't their first project, but I don't see evidence that any of them has made much progress. I was sceptical to begin with, but now I'm even more so.

I am not sure why you think they should put all this info out there now, especially if the technology involving the telescope is proprietary.

To convince anyone to give them money? If they're hoping to launch in 2020, there's no time to waste.

Maybe such information is for potential investors eyes only.

Maybe if they're looking for private investors. But I'm very doubtful they could do that and hope to get money from academia or national space agencies, as the plan seems to be.

Offline Star One

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #16 on: 11/15/2016 07:28 PM »
Quote
This gets interesting in the context of Project Blue, a consortium of space organizations looking into exoplanetary imaging technologies. This morning Project Blue drew on the work of some of those present at Stanford, launching a campaign to fund a telescope that could obtain the first image of an Earth-like planet outside our Solar System, perhaps by as early as the end of the decade. The idea here is to ignite a Kickstarter effort aimed at raising $1 million to support needed telescope design studies. A $4 million ‘stretch goal’ would allow testing of the coronagraph, completion of telescope design and the beginning of manufacturing.

Quote
Project Blue thinks it can bring this mission home — i.e., launch the telescope and carry out its mission — at a final cost of $50 million (the original ACEsat was a $175 million design). The figure is modest enough when you consider that Kepler, which has transformed our view of exoplanets, cost $600 million, while the James Webb Space Telescope weighs in at $8 billion. About a quarter of the total cost, according to the project, goes into getting the telescope into orbit, which will involve partnering with various providers to lower costs.

But Project Blue also hopes to build a public community around the mission to support design and research activities. Jon Morse is mission executive for the project:

“We’re at an incredible moment in history, where for the first time, we have the technology to actually find another Earth,” said Morse. “Just as exciting — thanks to the power of crowdfunding — we can open this mission to everyone. With the Project Blue consortium, we are bringing together the technical experts who can build and launch this telescope. Now we want to bring along everyone else as well. This is a new kind of space initiative — to achieve cutting-edge science for low cost in just a few years, and it empowers us all to participate in this moment of human discovery.”

http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?p=36621

Offline redliox

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #17 on: 11/15/2016 08:16 PM »
Here's a link to Project Blue's kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/projectblue/project-blue-a-space-telescope-to-photograph-anoth?token=359cb0d7

I'm going to try putting something towards this myself and I hope others here do likewise.
"Let the trails lead where they may, I will follow."
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Offline Star One

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #18 on: 11/15/2016 09:08 PM »
Here's a link to Project Blue's kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/projectblue/project-blue-a-space-telescope-to-photograph-anoth?token=359cb0d7

I'm going to try putting something towards this myself and I hope others here do likewise.

Couldn't remember if we were allowed to directly link to Kickstarter pages on here.

Online hop

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Re: Project Blue to image a planet in the Alpha Centauri system
« Reply #19 on: 11/16/2016 05:30 AM »
A few thoughts

Many of the people on the advisers page (http://www.projectblue.org/advisors/) are serious researches in the field. On some these crowdfunded projects "advisors" seem to just be celebrities lending their names, but my impression here is that they would be leading the project. These seem like people who have a good chance of developing a viable, worthwhile mission if they get enough money, though history suggests "enough" will be on the high side of initial estimates.

$1M on kickstarter is a pretty high bar, especially for a project like this where the rewards most people get are things like stickers and t-shirts. They are basically mining the same field of space geeks as many other space kickstarters, there seems little chance of it being a runaway hit with the wider public like a gadget or pop culture item might.

As they make clear on the kickstarter, $1M or even the $4M stretch goal is nowhere close the the total cost. They don't talk much about where the other $20-$50M is going to come from, aside from a brief mention of being "in discussions with private donors and like-minded corporate partners". IMO, it's safe to assume the majority of the funding is very much in question even if they meet the kickstarter goal.

I've never been a huge fan of the "help us raise X on kickstarter, and get your reward if we raise 20X elsewhere" approach, but there are plenty of rewards that don't depend on them flying.

Even if they don't fly, any development done has a good chance of contributing to the field down the road.

They pin the launch cost at around 1/4 the total. $5M seems low to launch a ~50cm telescope.

2020 seems like a very aggressive launch date, but slipping a few years wouldn't impact the overall goal.

Conclusion:
Cool project, I wish them luck, not holding my breath for it to fly but a successful kickstarter would likely support useful work even if it doesn't.