by Prof. Avi Loeb of Harvard University.
Edited by Zaira M. Berdiñas
Is there extra-terrestrial life just outside the solar system? The recent discovery of Proxima b1, a habitable Earth-mass planet next to the nearest star, opened a unique opportunity in the search for extra-terrestrial life. It is much easier to study nearby habitats for life, either by remote sensing of the feeble radiation signals from biologically-produced molecules (e.g. oxygen) or by sending spacecrafts that will image the planet’s surface or collect samples from its atmosphere through a close encounter. The Breakthrough Starshot initiative, announced in April 2016 (and whose advisory committee I chair) aims to send lightweight (gram scale) probes to the nearest stars at a fifth of the speed of light, so as to inform us of nearby life-hosting environments within our generation. To properly select the Starshot targets, we would like to know which nearby stars host habitable planets like Proxima b. The treasure of data expected from the Red Dots campaign will be invaluable for guiding and motivating the Starshot project.
Artistic’s conception showing the Starshot project concept. A laser beam propels a light sail towards a nearby exoplanet such as Proxima b. The sail ...